In first, women can apply to be Knesset rabbi
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In first, women can apply to be Knesset rabbi

Lawyer for progressive Judaism persuades Knesset legal adviser to alter tender that discriminates by requiring Orthodox ordination

Illustrative: Miriam Goldfisher, director of a kosher supervision class for women, studying Jewish dietary laws in preparation for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate exam on the topic. (JTA)
Illustrative: Miriam Goldfisher, director of a kosher supervision class for women, studying Jewish dietary laws in preparation for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate exam on the topic. (JTA)

Women have been invited to apply for the post of Knesset rabbi for the first time after the institution’s legal adviser bowed to a complaint claiming that an initial tender for the post was discriminatory.

A new tender has now been issued, said the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC,) which petitioned the Knesset.

The tender, published several months ago, to find a replacement for the current incumbent, who is retiring, stipulated that candidates had to provide a certificate of ordination from the Chief Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate, which is Orthodox, however, bars women from becoming rabbis.

IRAC — the public and legal advocacy arm of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism — complained to the Knesset’s director general and legal adviser.

In response, the Knesset withdrew the tender and issued a new one requiring a bachelor’s degree from an academic institution and a Chief Rabbinate certificate authorizing the holder to work as a kashrut supervisor.

In practice, much of the Knesset rabbi’s job relates to enforcing Jewish dietary laws in restaurants and cafeterias.

Orthodox Jewish women attend a kashrut supervision course at the Emunah Seminary College for Jewish Women’s Studies in Jerusalem on April 18, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The go-ahead for women to fulfill the kashrut supervisor role followed a 2012 petition to the 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.

In late 2013, the Chief Rabbinical Council voted to allow female supervisors and since then, hundreds of women have trained.

IRAC attorney Riki Shapira Rosenberg said the new tender for Knesset rabbi represented “a breakthrough, heralding the opening of additional rabbinic and halachic positions becoming available to women.”

Women are already 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.

JTA contributed to this report.

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