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Monday, July 20, 2015

If Rabbis aren't Able to Counsel Women, Maybe The Time has Come for Females to get Official Roles

In response to the periodic revelations that some rabbis have abused their positions and taken sexual advantages of females coming for counseling, some rabbis are now refusing to see unaccompanied women, or even a woman with her husband.

As we know, there is a halachik problem in the one on one counseling/meeting of a man and a woman. Officially it is forbidden, but when the situation is for pikuach nefesh, saving a life, medical, certain types of counseling, it is generally permitted.

In recent years, there have been women trained in certain halachik (Jewish Law) fields pertaining to women, and they do advise women with all of the authority of a male rabbi. And there are also women trained and certified to appear as "religious lawyers" in Batei Din, Jewish Religious Courts.

Now it is no longer rare for women to be experts in Talmud, Jewish Law. There are extensive advanced programs for women, giving tests and certificates in institutes such as Matan and Nishmat, both in Jerusalem. Nishmat has a well-known and successful halachik counseling service and hotline for women. And participants in programs like Matan's Beit Medrish are on the level of many male peers from a yeshiva.



Over the years, centuries and millenium, there have been female religious leaders, such as the Biblical Miriam, Devora, Chana and more recently the Chassidic Chana Rochel also known as the Maiden of Ludmir. A number of years ago, davka on the yartzeit of an aunt whose Hebrew name was Chana Rochel, Isramom and I saw a Hebrew-language play based on her story.

I think that it is time to distinguish/separate between the rabbinic role in leading prayer from the very different role in deciding Jewish Law and other religious counseling. 

Just use the simple hebrew term "Yoetzet Hilchatit," translate as "Religious Counselor/Advisor" or something like that. Don't use any word reminiscent of "rabbi" for the position. Do you have suggestions for a suitable name for women in the field?

Why should women feel they must consult with men about personal and religious questions or problems? And why belittle the knowledge of female scholars?

20 comments:

Perry Zamek said...

The picture is of a more recent female rabbi - Regina Jonas. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regina_Jonas

Batya Medad said...

Thanks, I got it from a different site. I will delete it.

Devorah said...

Totally agree with you Batya.

Batya Medad said...

thanks, share the post, please

Tomer Devorah said...

There are over 4000 Chabad Rebbetzins who already provide counseling and mentorship, in addition to filling the role of female leaders in their respective communities around the world. It's about time the Jewish world gets on board.

Batya Medad said...

Good point. I think that the title should be something new to suit the position. Not every rebbetzin is suitable for the job. And one doesn't need to be a "wife of..." aka rebbetzin to be a competent, skilled and knowledgeable posek/counselor.

Neshama said...

Now that I read your entire piece :-), you are right on target. This disgraceful issue seems to be coming to a climax soon after the issue with Rabbi Riskin. After all he has created a school for women to become Yoazot Halacha. (Im not including any controversial issues the Rabbanut has with him.) And this might be the impetus to allow women to fill the roles you mentioned.

Neshama said...

That was exactly what I said outloud while reading about how Rav ..... was not going to see women anymore, "even together with their husbands". That's an interesting statement. Was he perhaps intimating that men were week or that the women were temptresses??

CDG, Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael Shlemah said...

Batya, I thank G-d that some ravs are distancing themselves from sin because of this one "rabbi." In any case, I have taken halachic advice from qualified women, whether rabbanit or not; and will continue to do so, whether they have a title or not. And now, I am even more likely to do so than before (and this is the first time I am admitting to it, too. You have accomplished a great deal to take shame away.). I feel that there are just some things a woman doesn't discuss with a man, no matter how learned and qualified he may be.

Neshama, maybe the Rav you wrote of was intimating that he is weak. At least he is aware, values the position he has, and doesn't want to get himself in trouble with a woman or with HQB"H. I have respect for such a Rav, and would not go to see him. If he would write books on his topic(s) of expertise, I would read them, depending on my questions.

Batya, again, thank you for tackling this difficult topic. It would take a true learned, spiritual heart such as yours to accomplish the job without stepping over into the "Open Orthodox" (Reform by a different name) line.

Anonymous said...

Agree 100% with you on having women being religious counsellors for women. This is not a 'Rabbinic' role; but makes all the sense in the world for these learned women to be counsellors for women's problems! It's time!

Batya Medad said...

It could be that the rabbi who won't even see a woman with her husband present is for the very simple reason that many women who are having trouble with their husbands go for consultation, advice with rabbis. And in many of those cases, the women don't confide in anyone at all. So with time, Gd willing there will be competent women who can give good advice and Psak (Jewish Law decisions) so women will not need to confide in men. I've heard of some of the most absurd advice coming from "great rabbis." They may know all about kosher chicken, but they may have never "cooked one" in their lives.

AMJ said...

I have found that many families are moving away from that long held idea that they "need" a Rav. The title of Rav does not make them experts in all things or in anything besides the field they received Smicha in.

I agree with you that we need more women in the role of "family advisor, or halachic expert" in certain areas.

As for the same men giving advice about things they know nothing, except the halacha, you are right. I once asked a Rav about a question relating to Kashrut in the kitchen and he said, "I don't know, ask my wife!" A wise man indeed, since he was one of these dear souls who could barely boil water! :) BTW this is the same Rav who over saw the kashrut of many large industrial food companies... just goes to show not everything is equal. :)

Thanks for a great post.

Eliana

Batya Medad said...

Thanks
good example

Netivotgirl said...

Great post, Batya. You bravely entered the lions' den on this one with great finesse! I also enjoyed reading what "CDG, Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael Shlemah" wrote. How about the title, "Yoetzet Toranit?" That way you are further distancing yourself from women who will 'pasken' on Halachic issues that the vast majority of Orthodox Rabbis (of all "stripes") demand that only a man can and should pass judgement on.

Batya Medad said...

NG, thanks. I usually try to keep out of this topic, but this morning's article just made me open up on it. We women should take a larger role in the human aspect of Jewish Life, which is perfectly in tune with Halacha. Abraham trusted Sarah's advice, and Chana understood things far better than Elkana, so...

CDG, Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael Shlemah said...

Along with Netivotgirl, I'd like to make a couple of name suggestions:

Yoetzet Halacha Mishpachtit (Yaha"m) or Yoetzet Torah Mishpachtit (Yata"m)

Yes, the word "family" should be included, since it is SO important (Too bad for the Americans and other modern people who disparage the family and women who focus on it.).

Batya Medad said...

CDG, thanks very good ideas. We must work on it and be patient. It's like planting trees.

Cosmic X said...

As far as I know, the "rabbi from the North" was not considered to be a halachic authority by anybody. BTW, neither is the rabbi that said that he will not meet women anymore.

The "rabbi from the North" built up for himself a reputation as being a mystic and a miracle worker. As far as I understand, it was this that the women were seeking, i.e. it was not a question about whether the pot was kosher etc.

I have seen far too often how religious women are taken in by rabbis who tell them when the Messiah is going to come, what is going to happen to Hizballah is going to do next year.

For years rebbetzins have been available for advice in halacha and family matters. And what they did not know they would ask a competent Torah scholar.

So if you think Nishmat is the answer, then they will have to start training woman kabbalists and miracle workers.

sheldan said...

I agree with you completely. I have always thought that there must be ways we can use women as halachic decisors without having to use the term "rabbi." Apparently "rabbi" implies pulpit rabbi to many, so many people will be opposed to anything that seems like this, including commonsense proposals like making women into halachic authorities on some matters. But I hope that cooler heads prevail and this could be a way to maximize the participation of women without the criticisms that some will make.

Batya Medad said...

cos good point
Sheldan Gd willing