'Only 22 of 450 religious council members are women'

Religious Services Minister calls number an ‘achievement’ that reflects his efforts to appoint more women.

Only 22 women currently serve as members of local religious councils out of the approximately 450 people on 133 councils nationwide, a new report compiled ahead of International Women’s Day reveals.
The NGO Hiddush: For Religious Freedom and Equality will be presenting members of the government and the Knesset with the data indicating that – despite a High Court of Justice ruling in the case of Leah Shakdiel from 23 years ago that women cannot be prevented from serving on religious councils – only one out of every twenty members is a woman. In addition, no council is headed by women.
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According to regulations, 45 percent of the religious council’s members are appointed by the local authority, another 45% by the religious services minister, and 10% by the locale’s rabbi.
One of the 22 to serve as a council member is Elisheva Stollman from Efrat, who stressed that “we do not get involved in any halachic issue; our role is purely administrative,” and pertains to such religious services as “kashrut supervision, burial services, ritual baths (mikvaot), and Torah lessons.”
Stollman, who teaches political science at the Bar Ilan University, has been part of the five-member religious council since 2007, with a one-year hiatus for a post-doctorate in the United States. Unlike the heads of the religious councils, members do not get paid for their work, but she agreed to undertake the task “since as part of my community, I have a responsibility toward it. This is my service to the public.”
She also insisted on being in charge of the locale’s ritual baths, a service used almost solely by women.
While it can be at times challenging filling such a function in a relatively small community of people active religiously, Stollman noted on Sunday the great meaning to a woman’s presence on a religious council, which the other members are not indifferent to.
“Efrat’s religious council is very supportive; they understand the importance of a woman being part, someone who, for example, has a perspective of using the mikvaot, which the men do not have, and can represent the general needs of women,” Stollman said. Efrat is also the only locale to employ a woman kashrut supervisor.
Rabbi Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush, said of the findings that “the best way to put an end to exclusion of women from religious councils would be to immediately close them and transfer the services to the local authorities.”
Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi, however, told The Jerusalem Post that the fact that there are 22 women serving on councils is “a huge accomplishment.”
“I appointed more women to councils than any of my predecessors,” he said. “This is part of a move to fix the injustice of councils without women.”
Since the political parties composing the local councils are the bodies that elect the religious council members, and do not always seek to appoint a woman, Margi ordered that the minister’s representatives should include a woman. In the 50-60 functioning councils that received new members during his term, Margi said, seven or eight women were appointed at his request.