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Seeking an End to Gender Discrimination for Female Halacha Experts

Female halacha experts in Israel are victims of gender discrimination, according to ITIM, an advocacy organization committed to building a Jewish and democratic Israel. The Chief Rabbinate does not allow women to take the State exams to certify their halachic expertise. ITIM is seeking to change that. Targum Shlishi is supporting ITIM’s new initiative, titled “Enabling Women to Serve as Halacha Experts in Israel.”

“There are many women in Israel with deep expertise in halacha. These are women who study Torah at high levels, and in many cases hold jobs that rely on their knowledge,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “It is a travesty that the Chief Rabbinate discriminates against women to the extent that women are ineligible to take the State examinations to certify their halachic expertise. We are grateful that people like ITIM’s Rabbi Seth Farber are fighting for justice.”

Background on ITIM

ITIM is an advocacy organization founded by Rabbi Seth Farber in 2002 that is dedicated to improving issues of religion and state in Israel. ITIM directly helps approximately 5,000 people each year. ITIM’s Advocacy Center pursues regulatory reforms and, when necessary, takes legal action.

Description of Project

As part of this initiative to end the gender discrimination faced by these female halacha experts, ITIM is planning to petition the Chief Rabbinate to change its discriminatory practices and to prepare, file, and litigate a court case to that effect. ITIM has begun working with a group of qualified women who have been prevented from taking the State’s halacha exams by the Chief Rabbinate and who wish to pursue legal action. In March 2018 ITIM submitted a request that the women be permitted to sit for the exams, and that request was refused. ITIM is now pursuing an additional round of legal procedures, which it expects to continue for approximately two years.

Gender Discrimination and Getting the Word Out

“Gender discrimination is widespread within Israel’s religious establishment,” says Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM. “The issue facing these women is just one example of many. We very much hope to achieve a court victory. For these women, official certification is not only about professional recognition, but also will create potential employment opportunities.”

Along with legal action, ITIM is also working to publicize this effort widely in order to raise awareness of institutionalized gender discrimination. The project has already been covered in several news outlets, including YNet News, Times of Israel, and the JTA.

Related Projects

Targum Shlishi has long advocated for women’s issues, and awarding grants to projects that support women’s rights is one of the foundation’s core areas of giving. Additionally, Targum Shlishi has supported many initiatives that challenge the Chief Rabbinate. A few highlights of the many ground-breaking projects in this realm that the foundation has supported include  Chuppot’s advocacy work enabling Jewish couples in Israel to marry in halachically Orthodox ceremonies outside the framework of the Rabbinate, supporting the ordination of women as Orthodox clergy through Yeshivat Maharat and Har’el Beit Midrash, supporting multiple get refusal solutions initiatives such as the International Beit Din and Beit Hillel’s work, and supporting the rights of women to gain control over the management of the mikveh in Israel.

Links to a Selection of Aryeh Rubin’s Writing on Women’s Issues and Modern Orthodoxy

About ITIM

ITIM is the leading advocacy organization working to build a Jewish and democratic Israel in which all Jews can lead full Jewish lives. ITIM is committed to helping people participate in central features of Jewish life in Israel, such as gaining official recognition as Jews, converting to Judaism, and marrying as Jews, and to improving government policies that impede access to these fundamental Jewish life passages. Founded in 2002 by Rabbi Seth Farber, in 2005 ITIM established a free Assistance Center to provide the public with information, guidance, and support on government-administered matters of Jewish life. In 2010 it established an Advocacy Center to monitor government policies and practices, to contribute to parliamentary hearings, to draft policy reforms, and when necessary, to petition authorities and initiate litigation. In 2015 ITIM established the Giyur K’Halacha Conversion Court Network, which since has become Israel’s leading, non-governmental conversion program. For more information on ITIM, visit its website.

About Targum Shlishi

Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website. Follow Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director, on Twitter.

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