Religious IDF women.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
‘Women excluded from annual conference of the Israel Bar Association.”
“Women not allowed to participate at Sderot Conference for Society due to limited seating.”
Really? Of course not. Certainly not in the State of Israel in 2018. And yet, unfortunately, such a segregated conference took place on Thursday.
The rabbis of the Orthodox- Zionist movement are assembling for a celebratory show of unity to mark Israel’s 70 anniversary. The conference has invited the movement’s spiritual leadership, and yet not a single woman is allowed to attend.
You may ask – but are there any spiritual leaders who are women, Orthodox and Zionist? To that I reply unequivocally: Yes! The tens of thousands of men and women who participated this past Shabbat in Torah lessons countrywide as part of Kolech’s – a religious women’s forum – “Dorshot Tov” project are proof of their existence.
This year’s “Dorshot Tov” was the third in number with no less than 80 women – rabbaniot, female Torah scholars and halachic deciders – delivering Torah lessons in 140 synagogues throughout Israel.
Clearly, we do have female rabbinic leadership, one that is vibrantly glorifying the Torah. An erudite female leadership is an integral component of today’s religious- Zionist society. It is growing and it is here to stay, exerting a positive influence over the world of Torah and Israeli society in general.
The entry of Orthodox women into the Torah world and the arena of religious leadership is one of the most positive and important developments in Jewish life in our generation. This laudable change is occurring faster than previously expected and some people appear to have difficulty accepting it, and even feel threatened by it.
This Rabbinical conference, choosing to ignore women within the Torah world, is but one manifestation of this phenomenon.
This conference is a slap in the face of the flourishing female Torah world that has developed here in the last twenty years. As far as the organizing rabbis are concerned, nothing has changed – male hegemony continues in perpetuity. They will continue discussing how to act with regard to women’s communal status without involving even one woman in the discussion, without hearing their learned opinion. The discourse will be conducted over the top of women’s heads as if there was not even one female Torah scholar who could express a worthy view.
The attitude to women is the watershed issue that will determine the character and future of the religious-Zionist movement. The thousands of men and women who participated in the “Dorshot Tov” Shabbat already acknowledge the importance of female spiritual leadership within Orthodoxy. But the conference organizers pretend that time stands still – as if there wasn’t a single women capable of contributing her wisdom in Torah and halacha.
The conference organizers are seeking to demarcate the boundaries their halachic authority under the guise of unity. These boundaries simply leave no place for women who are halachic deciders.
Sadly, even those rabbis who recognize the importance of women rabbaniot have spoken out against boycotting the event, arguing that boycotts are never a good idea.
But what these rabbis ignore is that the very existence of such a conference excluding woman participation is a boycott. It is a boycott of women.
We all, women and men alike, seek to perpetuate and glorify the Torah, to strive for its honor and to integrate it into our daily lives. The unwillingness to accept female rabbaniot as a fait accompli, the unwillingness to enable them to take part in this conference strikes a damaging blow to the honor of Torah.The author is the executive director of Kolech – Religious Women’s Forum
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