A prominent Orthodox rabbi has instructed his followers that women should not engage in politics or run for the Knesset because it transgresses Jewish modesty laws, the Israeli religious news site Kipa reported on Wednesday.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, told students earlier this week that “women should not hold senior positions in the Knesset, as it is immodest. Public exposure is contrary to the Jewish view of the woman, whereby ‘the king’s daughter is all glorious within.’”

Aviner is regarded as an important spiritual leader of the religious Zionist movement. He also posited that, in principle, women shouldn’t even vote in the general elections but, in the current reality, if a woman wishes to vote he would permit it.

“It’s not merely a matter of going to the polls, casting the ballot and returning home,” the rabbi was quoted saying. “There are also parlor meetings, for women to know whom to vote for, and those are public events that are inherently immodest. They cause men to mingle with women.”

Aviner’s statement caused a stir, especially with the right-wing national religious Zionist party Jewish Home, whose list includes several women. Liora Minka, chair of the religious women’s organization Emunah, responded scornfully to the rabbi’s words, saying they exemplify “the kind of stagnation that holds sway with quite a few of the rabbis who claim to represent the religious Zionist movement.”

“Their minds are high in the sky — or deep in rabbinic books — yet their feet are not firmly grounded in reality,” added Minka. “Thus it comes as no surprise there is a big, constantly growing gap between the general population, including many groups within the religious sector, and the stagnant, conservative religious establishment.”

Later on Wednesday, MK Tzipi Hotovely of the Likud party presented a letter she received from Aviner, in which he told her that he had been speaking of the “ideal” situation rather than everyday reality, and that he approves of her political career.

“The Torah ideal is that women should not be involved in politics,” said Aviner in his letter to Hotovely, adding that since many political parties have set a quota of women, “voting for the most suitable woman” is a moral obligation.

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely on Wednesday received Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's seal of approval (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely on Wednesday received Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s seal of approval (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Chief rabbi of Norway and former MK Rabbi Michael Melchior also condemned Aviner’s pronouncement, writing on his Facebook page that “introducing as many worthy women to Israeli politics as possible may bring the desired change.”