Yeshiva Student and Mother Study Together for Spiritual Leadership Exams
While the Chief Rabbinate still prohibits women from taking its professional ordination exams, Ravit and Yehoshua Oran Kalech, a mother and son, are both studying for the difficult tests. Ultimately, the son will be ordained as a Rabbi and his mother will earn a certificate as a Morat Horaah and Spiritual Leader, the parallel title for Orthodox women: “This process cannot be stopped”
Kobi Nachshoni, Alexandra Lokash, Nir (Shoko) Cohen | Ynet News, March 9, 2021
The debate regarding enabling women to take the Chief Rabbinate exams has already reached the courts, however, it is a well-known fact that reality is dictated by what actually happens in the field. Ravit (50) and Yehoshua Oran (26) Kalech, mother and son, are both currently studying to take exams in Jewish law toward becoming spiritual leaders. Even though Ravit will not take the exams together with her son, at the exam center of the Israeli Rabbinate in Bayit Vegan, she will be certified as a Spiritual Leader and a Morat Hora’ah – someone who is certified to rule on matters of halakha – the parallel title for Orthodox women. This will happen after she passes the exams administered by Ohr Torah Stone’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL), at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem.
Popular demand, as mentioned, is what dictates reality. To what extent? Rabbanit Devorah Evron, the director of the Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership where Kalech studies, was recently appointed to the post of Spiritual Leader at Bar Ilan University, and has already begun responding to students’ halakhic questions. “I believe we are in the midst of a process, and eventually the public will vote with its feet”, said Kalech in a Ynet studio interview.
“If someone comes and asks me a halakhic question, then he is in fact declaring his recognition of the tools given me and in my ability to assist him. I view the role of Spiritual Leader and Morat Hora’ah as very service oriented; it’s for the public. There is an issue of ‘Kiblu Aleihem’, that they accepted this upon themselves. As soon as female Morot Horaah are being asked halakhic questions, the process cannot be stopped. Many women feel comfortable consulting with a woman in certain fields, but men have also asked me [halakhic] questions.”
No Competing With Mom
Kalech, a Modi’in resident and a lawyer by training, left her job three years ago to study halakha. The program in which she is enrolled at Ohr Torah Stone is parallel to the rabbinical program her son is in, also lasting five years, at the end of which she will receive a certificate of Spiritual Leader and Morat Horaah – one which will not be recognized by the Rabbinate. “As far as I am concerned, the reason I went to study was the desire to delve deeply, familiarize myself, understand, and acquire the tools to be a community’s Spiritual Leader”, she says. “I wanted to connect to this thing that is a part of me, and the public needs it.”
About two years ago, after the Rabbinate refused to allow six Orthodox religious female scholars to sit for the State of Israel’s official exams on halakha, the women turned to the Supreme Court to enable them to take the tests, which any man can register for, (and which entitles those who pass to greater professional opportunities and economic benefits – ed). A year later Ynet exposed that the State will permit women to sit for these exams. But the Rabbinate found the intervention objectionable, and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef announced that if the Chief Rabbinate would be forced to test women, it would protest by halting the men’s exams until a law is passed to circumvent the Supreme Court and prevent the move.
“Seeing as the Rabbinate, for now, does not allow us to take the official state exams, we take parallel tests based on the Rabbinate’s tests,” Kalech explains. Her son, Yehoshua Oran, an alumnus of the Maaleh Gilboa yeshiva, is completing his rabbinic studies at Ohr Torah Stone’s Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva. The title, at least in his view, holds less significance than the in-depth study and knowledge.
“We are people of the book,” he explains, “and when you study an issue it doesn’t matter if the person studying alongside you is male or female. There are women who are amazing at it and there are men who excel at it. The question is how you study, how we discuss the text – and how it spiritually sustains us afterwards. I am very pleased that the exams that my mother takes are at the same level as the ones I sit for, if not higher.”
So who is a better student, and who gets a higher grade?
“My mother is perfect, so I cannot compete. I’m happy with the place I’m in. I aim to pass and to succeed.”