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Some of the halachic experts who will be answering questions on the Meshivat Nefesh website for Beit Hillel (August 20, 2018). .(Photo by: BEIT HILLEL)
First-ever ‘Ask the Rabbanit’ website to be launched by women scholars
The initiative, called Meshivat Nefesh, follows an eight-month pilot period in which leading female halachic experts have answered more than 200 questions on a popular websites.
The Beit Hillel Orthodox Rabbinical Association is set to launch the first “ask the rabbanit” website for questions and answers on issues of Jewish law to be answered by leading women Torah scholars associated with the organization.

The initiative, called Meshivat Nefesh, follows an eight-month pilot period in which leading female halachic experts connected to Beit Hillel have answered more than 200 questions on the popular Kipa national-religious news website and forum.

Beit Hillel hopes the Meshivat Nefesh website will go online in the coming weeks, although questions can still be posed in the meantime through Beit Hillel’s website.

The organization also intends to establish an English-language version of the website in the future.

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni, a teacher and Torah educator for 15 years, is heading the project and says that more and more people are turning to the Internet for answers to questions on Jewish law, whether on question-and-answer forums or simply through search engine requests.

According to Shimoni, the large majority of questions came from women, but covered a wide range of issues pertaining to Jewish law such as laws regarding Shabbat, conversion, daily religious rituals and family purity questions, as well as broader spiritual and faith questions regarding belief in God and the Torah, and relationship issues.

“Women speak to women a lot and about many things; we have very deep connections and a lot of discourse goes on in every stage in life,” she told The Jerusalem Post.

“So we’re used to talking to each other openly and deeply about hard things – and this includes halachic questions. A women might feel that it’s easier to talk to another woman, and feel more comfortable.

“Women speak more to other women than to men, especially religious women, and so if you have questions about faith, prayer, relationship with God or family issues, then it is very classic that you want to speak to a woman who is closer to your world and way of thinking.”

Amongst the women scholars who will be answering questions for Meshivat Nefesh are Dr. Michal Tikochinsky, a lecturer at Herzog College and head of the women’s study center at Beit Morasha Center; Dr. Rachel Levmore, a renowned halachist and rabbinical court advocate; and Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel, a yoetzet halacha (advisor in Jewish Law) and head of the Advanced Halakha (Hilkhata) Program at Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies.

Another of the scholars who will be answering questions is Rabbanit Jennie Rosenfeld, manhigah ruhani (spiritual leader) in Efrat, and the first woman in Israel to hold such a position.

She described the initiative as “revolutionary and much needed,” and that it demonstrated the growing status of women in halachic leadership.

“I definitely think women halachic experts are becoming more accepted, and it’s fascinating that a lot of people have asked questions I wouldn’t expect,” she said.

“It’s inspiring that people are who are very different from us, people from all different educational and socio-economic backgrounds are asking us questions, especially from outside of the national-religious community.”

Similarly, Shimoni said that Meshivat Nefesh provides women scholars the opportunity to write responsa in Jewish law which exposes them to the public and brings them into the halachic discourse in the country.

“It gives us a platform to receive questions and write responses, and increases our connection to the Jewish people and broadens the horizon in many different ways.”

Shimoni said that although there are now numerous female halachic experts, people are still somewhat hesitant to approach them personally for advice in matters of Jewish law, adding that the Meshivat Nefesh online question-and-answer forum will help change the way people think about such experts and boost the stature of women halachic scholars.

She said that when approached in person, people may be inclined to see women halachic scholars as women first, but when they read responsa authored by women online “the connection over the Torah is the first connection… the Torah comes first before the woman.”
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