(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Adina Bar-Shalom, founder of the Haredi College in Jerusalem, insisted Monday that haredi women are able to serve as MKs and that her father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, held the same opinion.
Bar-Shalom was speaking at a roundtable discussion held at the Israel Democracy Institute regarding the status of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women in the 21st century in the haredi community and in broader Israeli society.
The position of haredi women has changed greatly in recent years, with large numbers joining the work force and many obtaining degrees and other higher education qualifications.
In many haredi households, women bring in the largest share of the household income in order to enable their husbands to remain in full time yeshiva study.
This phenomenon has also led to vocal demands by a small number of women for female political representation both at the municipal and national level.
“Jewish law does not prevent a woman being an MK, including for a religious party,” said Bar-Shalom.
“My father himself said that haredi women would do excellent work in the Knesset and would be able to act there with wisdom and understanding.”
Bar-Shalom was considering running for Knesset in the 2015 elections with a secular party but decided against doing so and instead took up a role heading a women’s council within the Shas party, which like the other mainstream haredi party, United Torah Judaism, does not permit women to stand for election.
“We are in a difficult position,” she continued at the IDI conference.
“The haredi community at large doesn’t accept the idea at the moment that a woman can represent it and believes that it is not the place of a woman to do so.”
She also said that when making her decision about a role in politics she was afraid it would lead her to be stigmatized as a radical in the community and that students would stop coming to the Haredi College in Jerusalem.
Speaking about the challenges facing the new role for haredi women today, Eti Meller, director of an employment initiative for the haredi community with the Joint Distribution Committee, said the new status of haredi women was seen as a possible threat inside the community.
“Haredi women who have obtained higher education qualifications or who have obtained a quality employment are themselves conflicted. They are themselves concerned about how their family will look, how they will raise their children and for the general character of their family,” she said.
“In parallel, there is a fear that the haredi community, through this changed status of haredi women, could lose its haredi identity and there is a concern for the spiritual existence of the haredi community when it is exposed to the outside world and its values of secularism and the individual.”
Meller said she is still concerned that there could be a backlash from the rabbinic leadership against the advancement of women’s status in haredi society if the issue is not handled properly, and that it could lead to a split within the community if this would happen.
She noted that she is herself involved in various initiatives to create dialogue and understanding within the community about the issue in order to try to prevent such a split.