OTS certifies new female halachic authority following landmark ruling
Sapir’s certification comes in the wake of a landmark ruling by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that the government must give equal recognition to women’s Torah studies and men’s Torah studies.
By Aaron Reich | July 7, 2020 (Photo credits: Gershon Ellinson)
Modern Orthodox organization Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) has certified a new female spiritual leader and halachic authority following a landmark decision by Israel’s attorney-general.
After becoming the ninth woman to complete the five-year course at OTS’ Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL), Rabbanit Shira Sapir received the title of “morat hora’ah,” meaning that she is authorized to provide direction in matters of halacha. Her studies covered a wide range of various halachic and communal leadership subjects, including Shabbat, kashrut, family purity and conversion.
Sapir, a mother of six from Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion, was awarded her certification at a small ceremony with only students, teachers and family in attendance due to coronavirus restrictions. Signing the certification was OTS president and rosh yeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander, OTS founder and rosh yeshiva Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin and WIHL Beit Midrash head Rabbi Shuki Reich.
Speaking at the ceremony, she said that the key to developing an attachment to Torah studies and observance is being passionate about it.
“When people are not involved and do not feel that the Torah is part of their lives or relevant to them, then apathy develops,” she said. “The activity, the involvement, the discourse and the shared learning of the public with the Torah is what best preserves it and establishes the strongest connection to our heritage and observance. The privilege of women in our generation to be able to spend our days on the benches of the beit midrash and take part in the ongoing Torah discourse is a central part of the redemption process.”
Sapir’s certification comes in the wake of a landmark ruling by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit last week, which stated that the government must give equal recognition to women’s Torah studies and men’s Torah studies, despite objections from the Chief Rabbinate. This came following accusations by several organizations that the rabbinate’s refusal to allow women to sit exams was a form of discrimination.
“Just one week ago we received the good news that Israel will have to open a parallel course of testing halachic knowledge specifically for women,” Brander said in a statement. “I hope that these tests will be equal in seriousness to the examinations administered today for men, and that they will prove to be the final opening of the gates to spiritual and halachic leadership by qualified women. The time has come for national recognition of your learning and your labor, for a public seal of approval on your knowledge and skills and an acknowledgment of your rights to equal pay and employment opportunities.”
He added that “we’ve shattered the glass ceiling, but in order to tread on it we still have a lot to accomplish. Women Torah scholars should be better integrated into halachicly-appropriate roles in our study halls and synagogues. We need to continue to push forward to create valuable positions in the IDF, hospitals and the public sector where they can illustrate and convey the relevance and sensitivity of halachic to greater numbers of people. And perhaps more than anything, the contribution of women scholars is needed in the world of halachic literature; this is one of the reasons that the WIHL also concentrates on writing, we await the day on which we will be able to fill the bookshelves with the words of women Torah scholars.”
“Women’s Torah scholarship is in many ways a metaphor for the times we live in,” WIHL director Rabbanit Devorah Evron said. “Both are defined by a long and challenging road where there are constant highs and lows. But by being focused on the goal, we know we are achieving something that will make us better people, better leaders and a better Jewish community.”
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.