Different choices

For some Orthodox Israeli women on the forefront of women's issues in Judaism, the central place of the beit midrash (study hall) in Israel may be one reason why ordaining women is not on the top of their agenda. "In my neighborhood in Efrat, there isn't one central spiritual leader," says Sarit Tehilla Belfer, a third-year student at The Matan Advanced Talmudic Institute, an Orthodox women's institution of Jewish learning. According to Belfer, Orthodox women have already started to become recognized Torah scholars and experts on specific areas of Jewish law. That they can't hold the position of pulpit rabbi, a position that she says has been traditionally more important in the Diaspora than it has been in Israel, is of little importance to her. Belfer herself has studied to be a rabbinical court advocate, and after passing a series of rigorous tests will be able to represent clients in the rabbinical courts. Although many advocates faced resistance at the beginning and even now some rabbis continue to oppose the practice, nonetheless the presence of women advocates, both modern Orthodox and haredi, has become a common sight in the rabbinical courts. By becoming advocates and also studying Talmud regularly in programs like Matan, like Belfer and her classmate and fellow advocate Reut Giat are moving into roles as halachic experts, but both are quick to add that they are not seeking "equality" but are focused on helping their communities. Having female advocates has changed the lives of women going through a divorce, who previously had to face an all-male rabbinical court while completely alone, explains Giat. However, when it comes to the issue of ordaining women, Giat would rather see the present rabbinical system improve, with a greater sensitivity displayed by today's rabbis and an expanded role for the rabbi's wife, in which she would be a community educator, alongside the rabbi. "The development of halachic norms is a slow and beautiful process," explains Belfer, who is far more excited about the possibility of women becoming judges in the rabbinical court, an idea that has been considered by some in the rabbinate, than about the possibility of ordination. - S.S.
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