A group of four Orthodox Jewish women has threatened to take the Chief Rabbinate to Israel’s highest court after their request to take an official rabbinate exam in family purity laws was rejected with no explanation.
The exam was held Thursday; the women were not allowed to sit for it.
A rabbinate clerk, speaking to a representative of the ITIM organization, said in response to the women’s request that “these are the rabbinate instructions” and “there is no option for women to take the test.”
The representative of ITIM, a nonprofit that guides Israelis through the country’s religious bureaucracy, recorded the conversation, which is legal. The Kolech organization and the Rackman Center at Bar-Ilan University have joined ITIM in supporting the women.
The women have been studying and teaching Jewish law for many years. Passing the exams, which are taken by thousands of men during the process of rabbinical ordination and are also in some professions the equivalent of an academic degree, could enable them to increase their pay grade in certain positions or apply for civil servant positions.
ITIM’s director, Rabbi Seth Farber, called the policy of not allowing the women to sit for the exam “illegal.”
In a letter to the director of the examination department at the Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Yehuda Glickman, the women and ITIM called for an explanation of the rejection and noted they have been teaching on the subject for years in high-level seminaries for women.
“The rabbinate is representing the State of Israel,” Elad Caplan, a lawyer for ITIM, said in a statement. “The women we are representing have reached the highest levels of Torah study and Israel should be able to clearly recognize this fact. The women are the go-to address for thousands of women on matters of Jewish law. Rejecting their request harms the world of Torah, the Torah institutions in which they studied and the public in general.”
Family purity laws involve ritual bath use, cohabitation and other subjects for which female expertise is often needed.
The Emunah Women’s organization in 2014 won its appeal to the Supreme Court to allow women to take the exams on kashrut, or dietary laws, so that they could work as kitchen supervisors in kosher restaurants.
Women still do not take the exams on issues such as halachic laws of Shabbat, marriage and prayer.