Rabbaniyot against the Chief Rabbinate
They are Torah scholars who have been studying Torah and halakha for years * But that doesn’t matter as far as the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is concerned, since it will not let them take the rabbinical ordination exam that concerns topics relating to women’s menstrual cycles * “We serve a large population of women; [this situation] is absurd,” say the Rabbaniyot, who are threatening to turn to the Supreme Court of Israel * Chief Rabbinate officials: “We only test those who can in fact serve as rabbis”
March 13, 2018 [Translated from Hebrew]
A group of religious women knowledgeable in halakha have recently turned to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel requesting to sign up for the exam administered about the laws of Niddah [ritual family purity], but their online registration was rejected with no explanation. When one of the women asked why she would not be allowed to take the exam, the representative of the Chief Rabbinate explained that: “According to the guidelines, there is no option for women to take the exam.” If the Chief Rabbinate does not accept their request, the women are expected to appeal the matter in the Supreme Court.
The exam that the women wish to take is one of a series of exams taken by thousands of applicants each year wishing to receive rabbinical ordination. Passing the exams is analogous to earning a university degree – which is required to apply for relevant tenders in the civil service. The certification thus has economic significance, in addition to official state recognition of the examinees’ halakhic knowledge.
Following the Emunah organization’s appeal to the Supreme Court in 2014, the Chief Rabbinate allowed women to take the Kashrut exam – which is the minimum requirement necessary to work as a kashrut supervisor at restaurants – but does not allow them to take the other exams, such as those concerning Shabbat, marriage, prayer and others. In the case of the Niddah laws, it is a particularly absurd restriction, as these laws concern the ritual purity and impurity of women. Even so, only men can be tested on these matters.
After their registration was rejected, the applicants, through the ITIM organization, turned to Rabbi Yehuda Glickman, the Director of Exams at the Chief Rabbinate, demanding that he explain the decision to deny their registration.
The women asking to take the exam have been studying Torah and halakha for many years. They possess broad halakhic knowledge which has been evaluated via external exams, and they all teach at institutions of high-level Torah study throughout the country.
The group of women includes Rachel Keren, the head of the Beit Midrash at Midreshet Ein Hanatziv; Avital Engelberg, an alumna of [The Susi Bradfield] Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership at [Ohr Torah Stone’s] Midreshet Lindenbaum and Yeshivat Maharat in New York; Shlomit Flint, an alumna of Midreshet Lindenbaum and the Matan Talmud Program, who is currently a fellow at the Women’s Halakha Kollel of Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa and Midreshet Ein Hanatziv; and Sarah Segal-Katz, an alumns of the Beit Morasha Halakha Program and the Women’s Halakha Kollel of Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa and Midreshet Ein Hanatziv, as well as a fellow at the Halakha Kollel at Bet Midrash Har-el.
“Torah is our profession. We serve a large population of women by answering their halakhic questions about the halakhot of Niddah,” explains Sarah Segal-Katz. Explaining her motivation to register for the exam, she says, “Without being able to take the exam and be officially recognized, it is as if our hard work amounts to nothing. The exam assesses knowledge that we possess, and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to take the exam like anyone else. As long as we are denied this possibility, this is an absurd situation that creates a false hierarchy between men and women, at least as far as halakha is concerned. The halakhot of Niddah are given to women; women are required to observe them, and they are relied upon to provide testimony about this topic themselves.”
Attorneys Elad Kaplan and Sarah Weinberg, who are representing the women via the ITIM organization, with the cooperation of the Rackman Center at Bar Ilan University and the Kolech Forum, explain that this is discrimination: “The Chief Rabbinate is responsible for administering halakhic exams for the State of Israel. It is unacceptable that these tests cannot be taken by women. The women requesting to take this exam are Torah scholars who serve as the halakhic authorities for thousands of women. Rejecting their application is offensive to the world of Torah, to the Torah institutions where they studied, and to the entire population which views them as Torah figures.”
The Chief Rabbinate responded: “The Chief Rabbinate’s examination department conducts exams in order to evaluate the ability and certification of rabbis or judges based on the criteria defined by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.” Its officials add that the Chief Rabbinate is an entity “that certifies those being tested to serve as rabbis or judges in practice and its purpose is not to test halakhic knowledge of anyone who requests. Since women cannot serve as rabbis in practice, the Chief Rabbinate cannot agree to their request to be tested.”