(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The rise of female Torah scholarship and, increasingly, female spiritual leadership has been a key development within modern-Orthodox and liberal national- religious communities in Israel and the US in recent years.
In the last two years, The Jerusalem Post has reported on the groundbreaking publication of the first book of responses on questions of Halacha (Jewish law) by two women ordained to give halachic guidance, as well as the first appointment in Israel of a woman to a position of spiritual leadership.
Now, in the latest step, the Kolech Orthodox Jewish feminist organization is running a country-wide program this Shabbat in which 30 prominent female Torah scholars will give sermons and deliver religious lessons in almost 50 synagogues.
The project, called Shabbat Dorshot Tov, is a Kolech initiative in cooperation with Midreshet Lindenbaum of the Ohr Torah Stone network, Matan, Midreshet Ein Hanatziv, and the Beit Hillel rabbinical association.
Several of the speakers will be addressing more than one community during the course of Shabbat, with talks being delivered in synagogues in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Modi’in, Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ra’anana, Gush Etzion, and numerous other congregations.
Women’s Torah leadership has been a growing phenomenon in recent years, with several institutions in Israel and the US conducting Talmudic study programs for women as well as ordination programs of different types.
Kolech says that although female Torah scholars have gained increasing stature and are now involved in halachic guidance as a result of such programs, they have not been exposed on a communal level to synagogue congregations.
“We are highlighting the growth of women’s Torah leadership over the past decade and trying to showcase it and bring to the fore” said Karen Miller-Jackson, a Kolech board member who is one of the Torah scholars speaking this Shabbat.
In particular, Kolech says that while it is very common for synagogues in Israel to invite prominent rabbis and male Torah scholars to speak in their communities over a Shabbat, many fewer female Torah scholars get an opportunity to do so.
“Communities can only benefit from engaging in halachic discourse with women, and seeing how women are now giving back to communities,” said Miller- Jackson, who said that the phenomenon of women’s spiritual leadership is now entering the mainstream of the national-religious community.
Kolech director, Attorney Yael Rockman, described the world of female Torah scholarship as “rich and deep,” and said that the purpose of the Shabbat Dorshot Tov program was to the make the broader public aware of it.
“Today the female Torah world is flowering and expanding its borders in different institutions in Israel and abroad,” said Rockman.
“However, this does not have sufficient exposure, so we hope that this Shabbat will be the beginning of a new tradition that will develop and thrive from year to year just as the world of female Torah scholarship has done.”