Rabbinate threatens strike if forced to train women in rabbinic laws

After AG tells High Court state will form parallel track to men-only ordination exams, Chief Rabbinate protests that it is not an ‘institute for higher education’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The building of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The building of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel on Tuesday threatened to strike if it is forced to provide training to women who wish to study the laws required to become an Orthodox rabbi, even if the women do not insist on receiving rabbinic ordination.

In a statement, the rabbinate said that it could stop administering all exams to ordain state-authorized rabbis.

The threat came after last week Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told the High Court of Israel that the state would set up a parallel track enabling women to be tested on the same material as men who take rabbinate exams to be certified as rabbis.

Mandelblit was responding to a petition by group of women represented by ITIM — the Jewish Life Advocacy Center, Bar-Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Stats of Women, and Kolech, an Orthodox feminist group. The petition sought to enable the women to take the rabbinic ordination exams — not for the purpose of being certified as rabbis but rather for the status and benefits that passing the exams can bring.

Passing the exams, which are taken by thousands of men during the process of rabbinical ordination and are in some professions considered equivalent to an academic degree, could enable the women to increase their pay in certain positions or apply for civil service positions that would otherwise not be available to them.

The petitioners, Sarah Segal Katz, Rachel Keren and Deborah Evron, argued that they were being discriminated against because the rabbinate only allows men to take the exams for rabbinic qualification.

In his response, Mandelblit wrote that there are “legal difficulties” in the current situation under which only men can take the exams. He said there were ongoing negotiations to establish a parallel track for women to be tested, administered either by the Education Ministry or the Higher Education Ministry.

The Chief Rabbinate responded by saying it is “not an institute for higher education and its role is to certify rabbis.”

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has instructed rabbinate officials to fully oppose training women, the statement said.

“The Jewish law and tradition that the rabbinate is entrusted to maintain does not allow for the training of women in the rabbinate,” it said.

As long as there is a legal order requiring the Rabbinate to train women, it will bring to a halt to all certification of rabbis, “pending a legislative amendment to settle the matter,” the rabbinate said.

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