(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the latest in a series of breakthroughs in the realm of religious leadership by Orthodox women, Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, a communal religious leader in Efrat, has been appointed director of the rabbinical court for property claims in that municipal region.
Rosenfeld has held a paid position as a spiritual religious leader in Efrat for the last two years. She recently completed a five-year course in Talmud and Jewish law for women at the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halachic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem.
Numerous regional rabbinical courts for property law around the country deal with financial disputes, inheritance issues, arguments between neighbors and similar matters.
For such courts to be granted jurisdiction over a case, both parties must agree to submit the issue to the rabbinical court in question and abide by its rulings, which are enforceable civil court orders if necessary.
As court administrator, Rosenfeld’s responsibilities will include, among others: providing assistance and information to parties of a suit, accepting written documents and other material relevant to the case, and arranging hearings.
Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post
that, in a broader perspective, her presence in a very male-dominated domain may increase the appeal of rabbinical property courts by making them “more comfortable and inclusive institutions.”
She said that, just as there is a need for female spiritual leaders in communal life, there is a need for women in the legal and judicial aspects of Jewish life, to make such options attractive to as broad a swath of the population as possible.
Rosenfeld also argued that the importance and appeal of having a woman in rabbinical courts could cut across gender lines, and stressed that men may also be more comfortable going to a rabbinical property court knowing it is more diverse and inclusive than has traditionally been the case.
She is also keen to highlight the advantages of rabbinical property courts over civil ones. Since no lawyers are required and each party pleads their own case it is cheaper, she noted, and the entire process is quicker.
In addition, Rosenfeld says rabbinical property courts are important for people who want the legal framework laid out by Jewish law.
“The larger goal of the Efrat Beit Din is to serve as a place where people can seek justice from a Torah perspective, and where they don’t have to rely on secular law,” she said.
Rosenfeld will not be serving as a rabbinical judge on the court, but is not ruling out the possibility for the future.
Neither is Efrat’s municipal chief rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who appointed Rosenfeld to her new position.
Riskin, who heads the Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions, which includes Midreshet Lindenbaum, says that there is a valid opinion within Jewish law for two people in a property dispute to choose to accept a woman as judge. In such a case, there is no reason for her not to serve in such a capacity.
He also noted that the biblical prophet Deborah was accepted by the Israelites as a judge and ruler over them.
Riskin also underlined the importance of Rosenfeld’s new role as court administrator as a step which could broaden the appeal of the institution.
Nevertheless, he said there is a real potential for taking the role up a notch.
“What Jenny is doing now is preparation for someone to be able to step up if in the future people might chose her as an arbitrator.”
Said Rosenfeld, “I would see becoming a rabbinical judge as a long-term goal, but one which would require more learning on my part, as well as getting more experience in this new role.”
The Efrat rabbinical court for property claims has been shut for several months. The first case since its reopening was heard this week. The court will serve residents of Efrat and the wider area of the Etzion Bloc in which Efrat is located.