Women Move Towards Approval as First Israel Kosher Supervisors

9 Take Test — and Gingerly Step Toward Equality

All-Male No More: Women will be permitted to serve as kosher supervisors, like this man at an Israeli winery, as the first group of women take a supervision exam.
getty images
All-Male No More: Women will be permitted to serve as kosher supervisors, like this man at an Israeli winery, as the first group of women take a supervision exam.

By Ben Sales

Published May 13, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — In a step that further expands the opportunities for women to serve as recognized authorities in Jewish law, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for the first time is allowing women to serve as kosher supervisors.

Nine women took the Chief Rabbinate’s kosher supervision exam last week in Jerusalem. Should they pass, they would become the first women qualified to enforce Jewish dietary laws in any Israeli institution the Chief Rabbinate certifies as kosher.

The change resulted from a 2012 petition to Israel’s Supreme Court from the Orthodox women’s advocacy group Emunah. The following year, with the court having not yet issued a ruling in the case, Emunah launched a six-month class in kosher supervision for women that covered the topics included on the Chief Rabbinate’s exam, from overseeing non-Jewish cooks to the laws of kosher slaughter, or shechitah.

Late last year, Israel’s Chief Rabbinical Council voted to allow female supervisors.

“Everything that allows women to take part in religious services and doesn’t transgress halachic principles, we’ll fight for,” said Liora Minka, Emunah’s director general. “Everything that is at the heart of the religious Zionist consensus, we’ll fight for women to take part in.”

If they pass, the nine candidates will join a growing group of women recognized as authorities in particular areas of Jewish law, among them advocates who argue cases before Israel’s religious courts and informal advisers in areas of women’s health and sexuality, including the Jewish laws of family purity.

Some activists see this most recent development as another incremental advance toward women serving alongside rabbis as general authorities on Jewish law. But others view the change as entrenching traditional women’s roles within Orthodoxy rather than a push for gender equality.

“We don’t need to be kosher supervisors to be like men,” said Talya Libi, a 23-year-old mother who took the course in part because she believes a Jewish woman’s traditional role is to supervise her own kitchen. “Calls for advancing the status of women are wrong from their foundation.”

Chief Rabbinate spokesman Ziv Maor told JTA that rabbinic authorities disagree on whether women are allowed to be kosher supervisors. The Chief Rabbinate had sided with those who prohibited women from serving in that capacity, but Rabbi David Lau, who was elected chief rabbi over the summer, took the opposite view.

Like kosher supervisors, women gained the right to argue before religious courts only after a Supreme Court petition in 1991. Female yoatzot halachah, or advisers in Jewish law, generally provide guidance privately and have not sought official endorsement.

“We haven’t previously had institutions that were enabling the degree of Jewish legal knowledge that women are acquiring today,” said Chana Henkin, the founder of Nishmat, which has trained 85 advisers since 1997. “Whether the community will be turning to women is something we’ll all see within the next period of years.”

A similar question hangs over a parallel American effort for greater women’s leadership opportunities within Orthodoxy. In 2009, Rabbi Avi Weiss opened a seminary to train Orthodox women as clergy, a move roundly rejected by the mainstream Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America. Yeshivat Maharat has since ordained three women and currently has 17 students.

Rabbi Shlomo Ben-Eliahu, who has taught women in the kosher supervision course, has employed female supervisors unofficially in his northern Israeli community for 15 years. He denied that the course constituted a revolution in Orthodoxy, noting that supervisors merely enforce Jewish legal decisions made by male rabbis.

“Every supervisor who works with me is in daily contact,” he said. “You need to ask the rabbi, you need to talk to the rabbi.”

But Hemda Shalom, a 54-year-old mother of five who took the exam last week, said she foresees a day when women will be able to adjudicate Jewish legal matters just as rabbis do.

“To decide Jewish law, you need very, very broad knowledge, and not a lot of people are capable,” Shalom said. “If a woman meets the demands of adjudication, I don’t see why not. Sometimes the grassroots dictate these things to the people up high. Time will tell.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.