The Israeli government will begin paying the salaries of female advisers on Jewish law, Deputy Minister Matan Kahana announced Thursday, marking a significant step toward gender equality by the Religious Services Ministry, which previously shied from progressive stances on such issues.
“It is clear to everyone that learned women are an inseparable part of the communal and religious world” by now, Kahana said in a statement announcing the move.
The decision, a significant milestone toward official government recognition and funding of female religious authorities, is the latest step by Kahana to advance gender parity in areas of religious life.
The women in question will not be rabbis but will hold the distinct title of “halachic advisers” — halacha being the Hebrew term for Jewish law — who are able to answer questions about religious issues. They will specifically focus on female issues like the ritual purity laws around menstruation, though can also offer expertise in other areas.
“This innovative step is meant to integrate women in the halachic communal space and to provide a source for answers for women on sensitive and private matters dealing with ‘family purity,'” the Religious Services Ministry said in its statement.
The ministry added that these women “will occupy a halachic leadership position alongside communal rabbis.”
Kahana, who has led the ministry for the past year, has instituted a number of reforms to expand roles for women in Jewish communal life, including installing women in local religious councils and requiring that women constitute 40 percent of the committees that choose municipal rabbis.
The halachic advisers will be employed by the communities where they serve. The Religious Services Ministry will provide the funding for their salaries, a spokesperson for Kahana said.
The ministry plans to earmark enough money for up to 21 local councils to hire a female halachic adviser. Many women already fill the role in an unofficial volunteer capacity or through locally funded positions, Kahana noted.
“Female halachic advisers are an established and welcome fact in Israeli communities and the time has come that the State of Israel recognized their holy work and funded their activities. I am convinced that this is an important and welcome step for Judaism and will add Torah and holiness to Israel,” he said.
The ministry’s announcement was lauded by the liberal Orthodox group, Ne’emanei Torah v’Avodah, which said it portended further recognition of female Jewish leadership roles.
“We hope that in the future this funding will recognize the activities of those who already serve as female rabbis in communities and hope that this will bring more women into these positions,” the organization said.