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Israel's Biggest Rabbinic Position is Now Open to Women

Israel's Biggest Rabbinic Position is Now Open to Women

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For the first time in Israel's history, a woman can apply for the position of Knesset Rabbi.

The primary job of Knesset Rabbi is supervising the kashrut of the Knesset's cafeterias and answering questions of halacha (Jewish law) as they arise. Until now, the position required a certificate of rabbinic ordination from the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. The current rabbi is retiring in a few months, and the job was posted to find his replacement.

As always, the requirements included having received an ordination certificate from the Chief Rabbinate. Because women and progressive rabbis are barred from taking the rabbinate's certification exams, the job of Knesset Rabbi was closed to them, regardless of their qualifications and abilities.

We at the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) would not let this discrimination stand. IRAC attorney Riki Shapira Rosenberg sent a letter of complaint to the Knesset Director-General, and to the legal advisor, arguing that the requirements of the job posting discriminated against women. IRAC sends nearly 100 such letters every year. Usually these letters are just the beginning of a long process of negotiation, and it often takes several reminders, and a petition to the Supreme Court, to even receive a response.

In this case, the Knesset Legal Advisor wrote back within a week, agreeing that the job requirements were discriminatory and assuring her that the job listing would be changed. We were thrilled to get a positive response so quickly!

Thanks to IRAC, the job posting was rewritten and the requirements changed. This time, instead of a certificate of rabbinic ordination, the requirements included a bachelor's degree from an academic institution and a kashrut certificate from the Chief Rabbinate. Because women can receive a kashrut supervision certificate from the rabbinate, this change in requirements allows women to apply for the position of Knesset Rabbi.

This is a major breakthrough that will hopefully open additional rabbinic and halachic positions to women.

Rabbi Noa Sattath is the director of the Israel Religious Action Center.

Rabbi Noa Sattath
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