For the first time ever, the State of Israel will create official accreditation for women Torah scholars which will afford them equal standing to men with qualifications from the Chief Rabbinate when applying for state-paid employment.
A year ago, three organizations, Itim, the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women, and Koleich, petitioned the High Court of Justice and argued that the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to allow women to sit exams for the qualifications it awards to men means that they are effectively discriminated against when applying for work with various government agencies, municipal authorities and other statutory bodies.
Many women from the religious-Zionist community have informal qualifications in advanced Jewish law from several institutions but they are not recognized by the state as Chief Rabbinate qualifications are.
The petitioning organizations argued to the High Court that since Chief Rabbinate qualifications are considered the equivalent of a BA degree and can be cited for fulfilling employment requirements for state-paid positions, as well as influencing salary levels, the state must provide an option for women to obtain such qualifications.
In response to the petition, the State Attorney’s Office said that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit did indeed see the current situation as legally problematic, and has set in motion a process for the state to arrange for official accreditation for women Torah scholars.
The Chief Rabbinate insists that this is not its role, and the examinations and accreditation will likely be through the Education Ministry or Higher Education Ministry.
The State Attorney’s Office has now asked the court for an extension so as to put in place the new accreditation system.
Blue and White MK Tehila Friedman said she was greatly moved by the development.
“Only rarely are there great breakthroughs, springboards and milestones, and the attorney-general’s decision that to end the situation in which women cannot be examined in the rabbinate, as well as the decision of the Chief Rabbinate that there be additional pathways for men and women which will be recognized by the state, is one such moment,” said Friedman.
“This is all in the merit of scholarly women.”
Itim director Rabbi Seth Faber noted that more and more female scholars have taken on halachic (Jewish law) leadership roles in recent years, which he said enriches Torah study and Jewish life.
“Until now the Chief Rabbinate has not done enough to promote women torah scholars. Through this case, we have an opening for change, and the long overdue recognition of women’s contributions to halacha. The official recognition will enable women torah scholars to have status within the community.”Rabbanit Sarah Segel-Katz, a teacher in Jewish law and founder of the Gluyah Center, who was one of the six women party to the petition, welcomed the decision and “the recognition by the state of the illegitimate discrimination that has occurred until now regarding examination in Jewish law.”She and her fellow petitioners now intend to take the exams “in order to serve the public” in positions requiring such qualifications. “I am happy when I think about the doors that opened with this decision and very saddened that the Chief Rabbinate has chosen not to be a partner in this process of Tikun Olam of the halachic life of men and women,” said Segel-Katz.