Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi appointed senior role in European rabbis org

Mizrachi said that representatives of the CER “asked me to be the president of the rebbetzin training program on behalf of the CER.”

 Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi speaks to orthodox Jewish women at the Public Security Ministry offices in Jerusalem (photo credit: URI LENZ/FLASH 90)
Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi speaks to orthodox Jewish women at the Public Security Ministry offices in Jerusalem
(photo credit: URI LENZ/FLASH 90)

One of the most influential religious women’s leaders in Israel, Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, now has a new role. She is to be president of the new rebbetzin training program on behalf of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER). In other words, Mizrachi is set to become the unofficial chief rebbetzin of Europe.

“In conversations with CER CEO Gadi Gronich and [CER] secretary Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Baskin, they explained to me that, for many years, the work of the rebbetzins in Europe hasn’t been recognized,” Mizrachi said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. She explained that European rebbetzins are “active in personal, family and intimate counseling, volunteering at the mikveh, involved in children’s education and yet haven’t been recognized for their time and efforts.”

Mizrachi said that representatives of the CER “asked me to be the president of the rebbetzin training program on behalf of the CER,” which she thinks is “a small step for Europe and a big step for the religious world.”

When asked why this new program is so important, Mizrachi answered that it is “because these women’s activities have never received any support, backing or title... People always tell me, ‘rebbetzin isn’t a title or a thing, it’s merely the wife of a rabbi,’ and they are completely right. After all, she is a rabbi’s wife.”

“People start asking questions: ‘Wait, what exactly is her training?” she said. “And it is a shame, since many times they are asking questions about women who do amazing things for their communities.”

Who is Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi?

Mizrachi is an attorney and a Rabbinical Court advocate, yet she has not engaged directly in these fields for many years. She is also one of the most popular religious speakers in Israel.

 Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi speaks to hundreds of orthodox Jewish women at a conference organized by the religious women's magazine ''Pnima'' in Jerusalem on September 06, 2015 (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi speaks to hundreds of orthodox Jewish women at a conference organized by the religious women's magazine ''Pnima'' in Jerusalem on September 06, 2015 (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Mizrachi is the daughter of Rabbi Elinatan and Rabbanit Tirtza Rothschild. Her father was born in Switzerland, a scion of the Rothschild line, and her mother came from a venerable Casablanca family. During her youth in Jerusalem, her father taught her Latin, Arabic and French. She is married to the Kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Mizrachi, and they live in Jerusalem with their nine children.

She has a weekly radio program, a column in a few Israeli newspapers and has published numerous books. Mizrachi was mentioned as one of the 50 most influential women in Israel by Globes.

“As someone who lives in the Land of Israel, my ambition is to get to know the main questions that women in the European Jewish communities face.”

Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi

“As someone who lives in the Land of Israel, my ambition is to get to know the main questions that women in the European Jewish communities face,” Mizrachi said. “It will be interesting for me to deal with them from an Israeli point of view.”

Part of Mizrachi’s role as president of the training program will be to hold a monthly Zoom conversation with the young rebbetzins, give lectures and classes, and to engage in one-on-one training with the rebbetzins, answering their questions and assisting them in their day-to-day challenges.”

Mizrachi explained that she has been in touch with many of these rebbetzins and female European Jews for many years. Now, she said, the role of answering their questions and challenges has just become formalized.

“I’m already in touch with many European rebbetzins,” she said. “I get questions by e-mail all the time. I suddenly looked at my email after the meeting with the CER and thought to myself, ‘there is a huge branch of female responsa literature; thousands of Q&As from around the world.’”

She emphasized that she doesn’t answer questions in Halacha (Jewish law). “I’m not an expert in Halacha, therefore I advise on matters that have to do with Judaism, especially from a feminine perspective,” she said. “I don’t answer questions of what or why to do something, but rather questions of how to do it.”

When asked about the cultural differences between Jewish women in Europe and Jewish women in Israel, Mizrachi said that she has recognized a phenomenon of “ultra-Orthodox women in Europe [who] do not work.” In her perspective, this phenomenon “can be great, because motherhood is very fulfilling, but their relationships with their husbands are suddenly complex. The woman can feel small and irrelevant, in front of her husband who may be in business, for example. I get a lot of questions about these complexities, which are less of an issue in Israel.”

Women who didn't study as they do now ask me for books to study.

Mizrachi added that “women are a people of themselves. The fact that these women live in Europe doesn’t really matter, the problems are usually similar.”

When asked about unique questions she has received from European rebbetzins, Mizrachi recalled an email from a rabbi’s wife from Germany. “The rebbetzin asked me about the postponement of going to the mikveh once a month, since the ritual bath is very far away,” she said. “Only after being asked this question, have I noticed the dedication of women who need to travel for hours to reach a kosher mikveh. It struck me very much.”.

Mizrachi said that she is in awe every time she hears the European rebbetzins speak about faith. “I must say that it actually fortifies them that they are a Jewish minority in a certain country,” she explained. “It allows them to hold a belief that rarely exists in Israel. The favorable conditions of Israel allow for easy religious debates that minorities cannot afford to speak of. Judaism is defined in Europe at times, more clearly than here.”

“There is a big elephant in the room that is not talked about and it is very significant,” Mizrachi said. “This generation realized something that should have been understood a long time ago: female-intimate questions should be handled by a woman.”

Although the CER made a bold move that may draw criticism from more conservative groups, Mizrachi said that she doesn’t think that her appointment will be accompanied by any drama. “I’m not leading any big revolutions here,” she explained. “I would just like for women to recognize that they can get advice from a woman. I would like every community to have a female figure that they can turn to with a question. I think that if these rebbetzins in Europe get recognition from the outside, they will feel more comfortable and less lonely. I think these women will feel more empowered.”

“After the great success we had with our rabbinical training course, we received inquiries from the wives of these young rabbis, who asked, ‘what about us?’” Gronich said to the Post from his office in Germany. “We asked the rebbetzins what their needs were and accordingly built a program for them.” About 40 young rebbetzins have signed up for this new program, and Gronich hopes that many others will join afterwards.

Gronich explained that there are two types of rebbetzins. “One type of rebbetzin is basically a rabbi’s wife who isn’t as active as she could have been in the community,” he said. “There is the second type of rebbetzin, who has a huge role in the community... None of these rebbetzins get recognition or a word of thanks for the work that they do. So, first of all, we wanted to thank them and secondly to strengthen the position of the rebbetzin in the community.”

He explained that in most communities in Europe, the rabbi’s wife isn’t paid a salary for her work. “We want to create a reality that the community will compensate the rebbetzins for their work,” he said. “It’s crazy that even though the rabbi’s wife assists people in the community on issues such as family purity, delivers classes or deals with interpersonal matters, no one compensates them.”

Gronich revealed that his long-term goal is to educate these Jewish communities in “understanding and recognizing the work of the rebbetzins. I want them to start thinking about paying them. I hope that in a few years from now, when a community is looking for a rabbi for a tenure, they will search for a rabbi and a rebbetzin, not just a rabbi.”

The CER program for rebbetzins offers two tracks: a mentoring track, where each young rebbetzin will receive mentoring by an older and more experienced rebbetzin. The second track is a professional community development program, which will teach them how to appear in front of an audience, conduct interviews with the media and develop personal qualities as a leader.