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!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • 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.