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!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • 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.