A poster from Kerry Bar-Cohn's campaign to bring back posters featuring women to the streets of Ramat Beit Shemesh .
(photo credit: KERRY BAR-COHN)
The Emek Hefer Religious Council in the Sharon district is the first in the country to have four women members, a significant milestone in gender equality on these bodies.
In accordance with the Law for Jewish Religious Services, the nine-member council is comprised of five members selected by the Religious Services Ministry and the local rabbinate, and four selected by the Emek Hefer Regional Council.
The latter approved the appointment of the four women last week, although the Religious Services Ministry must consent to the appointments, as the regional council must consent to all the ministry’s picks.
The women who have been chosen are Orit Harel, Mili Tiram, Osnat Sabach and Tal Attias.
There are 129 religious councils across Israel, but only Emek Hefer’s will be comprised of 45% women.
Local Religious Councils are tasked with providing Jewish religious services to the residents of the municipal jurisdiction they are responsible for. Their services include running the municipal kashrut licensing system on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate; the marriage registration bureau; mikvaot, or ritual baths; and administrative requirements for death and burial.
Newly-elected Emek Hefer Regional Council chairwoman Galit Shaul spearheaded the drive to ensure that women have significant representation on the region’s religious council, stating that women need equal representation in all forums of local and national governance.
Representation for women is notably lacking in many forums of Israel’s religious institutions, including formal positions such as rabbis and rabbinical judges as well as more administrative roles such as on local religious councils, committees for appointing rabbis and rabbinical judges, and similar positions.
Shaul noted that religious concerns have a major influence over Israeli women and men at some of the most significant and personal junctures of their lifetimes, and that it was therefore important to have equal representation for women on the bodies that provide religious services.
“Gender equality is important in all fields, and I will continue to work towards that goal in every forum where it is required,” said Shaul, formerly the director of the Rackman Center, a women’s rights lobbying and advocacy group.
The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah organization which lobbies for reform in the provision of religious services in Israel and which has advocated specifically for fair representation for women on religious councils, welcomed Emek Hefer’s move.
“Representation for women on religious councils is critical in order to provide appropriate religious services to the general population, and we hope and expect that Emek Hefer will serve as a model for other local authorities to emulate in the goal of bringing about fair representation for women on religious councils around the country,” the organization stated.
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