A somewhat bizarre ceremony took place in the Knesset between the first and second rounds of the recent presidential elections.
MK Yakov Margi, former religious services minister, summoned three of his colleagues from the Shas party to the Jewish ceremony of Remission of Vows.
And why did the distinguished MK need to undergo this ancient procedure? It was revealed that Margi had vowed to vote “only for Dalia Itzik,” or for whoever she recommended should she fail to pass the first round. Itzik recommended voting for Meir Sheetrit, yet Margi declined and needed therefore to be released from his vow. Not only did Margi vote for Itzik, just as several members of his party as well as of the United Torah Judaism party did, he was even her first endorser.
This seems indeed amazing.
We’ve been ordered in the Bible: “When you reach the land ... possess it and settle it, should you say ‘I shall appoint me a king like all the nations around me,’ you must appoint a king over you that God chooses.” The Sifré, an ancient exegetical midrash to the Bible, inferred from this phrase: “‘You must appoint a king over you’: ‘king’ and not ‘queen.’” Maimonides went much further and declared that this is not limited to the head of the state, rather “whatever the office to which appointment is made, only man is qualified to hold it.”
When Golda Meir was elected in 1969 to replace Levi Eshkol as prime minister, the halachic dispute became real. The NRP ministers who did not wish to give up their positions faced severe criticism from Agudat Yisrael sitting in the opposition.
The then chief rabbi, Yitzhak Nissim, pulled their chestnuts out of the fire by ruling that the equivalent of a king in a democratic regime is the president, not the prime minister, who is merely first among equals and not the head of state. This ruling paved the way of the ministers into Golda’s government.
Indeed, at the end of the ‘50s the president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, went abroad. At the same time the speaker of the Knesset, Kadish Luz, also planned an overseas trip. At that time MK Beba Idelson served as deputy speaker and as such was supposed to replace both the speaker and the president. In order to prevent such an occurrence the religious factions did not approve Luz’s trip.
Neither was the above-mentioned incident Meir’s first encounter with the halachic prohibition on nominating women for public office. On June 1946, during Operation Agatha, known as the Black Sabbath, when the Zionist leaders were arrested, Meir [then Meirson] was appointed to replace Moshe Sharett as head of the Jewish Agency’s political department. This is what the daily of the Mizrahi movement Hatzofe wrote: “It is hard to accept that in a nation that engraved for generations the coin ‘All glorious is the princess in her chamber,’ whose Torah imposed commandments on the man and not on the woman and denied her the privilege to serve as judge as leader and as witness, who fixed her respectable site inside the tent, that in such a nation a woman will be placed on top of a political department.”
“With all due respect to the bright and diligent woman,” added the editorial, “one cannot place her on top of a central institution of the Jewish public.”
Seven years later, when Golda Meir ran for the office of mayor of Tel Aviv, she was boycotted by the NRP, Mapai’s traditional partner, stating: “Never! Can a woman be a head?! You should appoint a king, a KING not a QUEEN!” Indeed, NRG members of the city council transferred their support to the General Zionists and Haim Levanon became mayor.
Does the recent race for presidency mean that the prohibition against appointing women to public posts is water under the bridge? May we expect to witness female MKs in the haredi factions in the Knesset? Won’t Adina Bar-Shalom have to leave the party, which her father established, in order to run for the Knesset? The author is dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School.