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In first, ultra-Orthodox woman tapped to lead a local religious council

Rivka Azriel to oversee religious services in Binyamina; will be the 2nd woman to ever hold such a position, but the 1st to be appointed by a cabinet minister

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

An aerial view of the town of Binyamina in northern Israel on April 12, 2008. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
An aerial view of the town of Binyamina in northern Israel on April 12, 2008. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Rivka Azriel was appointed to lead the religious council of the town of Binyamina, making her the first ultra-Orthodox woman and the second woman to ever hold such a position in Israel.

Azriel was appointed by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, he said in a tweet.

As head of the religious council of Binyamina, Azriel will be responsible for overseeing the town’s various religious services, its kosher certification, marriage licenses, burial services, ritual baths and other communal aspects of Jewish life.

Though she was the first woman to be appointed by a minister of religious services, Azriel was technically the second to ever lead a religious council. The first, Smadar Gross, was voted into the position in the central Israeli town of Kfar Saba in 2004 by its city council. After nine months facing fierce opposition from local rabbis, Gross resigned.

“Rivka broke the glass ceiling twice, as the first woman to ever be appointed and as a woman who specifically comes from the Haredi community,” Kahana said.

Azriel’s appointment was part of a larger effort by Kahana to shake up the country’s religious services: introducing more women into leadership roles, though notably not as rabbis; reforming the country’s conversion framework; and opening its kosher supervision to competition.

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