Together with the great joy that accompanied the news of the High Court decision to order the State to formulate regulations that will allow women to submit their candidacy to serve as Director of the Rabbinical Courts, I also felt anger and disappointment.
This is because my heart aches for the State of Israel in 2016, in which it was necessary to appeal to the Supreme Court to open the doors of this tender to women, rather than this decision growing from within, from the system itself. A system which seems, unfortunately, to rest on its laurels, fixed in its position and blind to the fact that the world is changing, progressing and developing.
As an Orthodox woman, there are observances and activities that are prohibited to me. I cannot complete a minyan, nor can I be called to bless the Torah. I believe the Torah and Halacha do not allow me this, and as an Orthodox woman I can only accept it humbly and with love. However, I refuse to accept a reality in which there are those who want to close the doors which are left wide open to women according to Halachic law.
The role of executive director of the rabbinical courts is not the first battle in which we, as women, have had to fight against the courts and the State in order to stand up for our rights, and it seems that it will not be the last. Back in the ’90s we fought for our right to serve as rabbinical court advocates (toanot). Since the founding of the State, that role was reserved for men only; women were excluded from it altogether, though there was no halachic prohibition or reason for doing so. Rather, women were prevented from serving as toanot because of a formal legal specification which stipulated that the license to practice rabbinical advocacy can only be granted after learning for a few years in a yeshiva. This created an absurd situation, where I, a woman, could represent either side in the rabbinical court as a lawyer, but not as a rabbinical advocate.
Then, just like in the present situation, the court system fought us and refused to accept women advocates. It was only the result of the vision of people such as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbanit Nurit Fried which gave us the strength to continue fighting to change this distorted reality. And just like in the present situation, it was the Supreme Court that came through for us, legally requiring the State to allow women to be recognized as rabbinical court advocates. Two decades later, female rabbinical court advocates are an inseparable part of the rabbinical court landscape, and most of us have difficulty even imagining a situation where they were not allowed to be a permanent part of the courts’ halls and courtrooms.
In recent years, many women have made remarkable achievements in Israel, both in the religious and the secular world. Women serve as ministers, Supreme Court judges, doctors, and even the Governor of the Bank of Israel. This situation causes me great frustration alongside my feelings of pride, as the need repeatedly arises to continue fighting for rights that are legitimate to the public, and which men take for granted. Such is the current situation, as becoming part of the rabbinical court system – even in an administrative role – was, for us, an impenetrable glass ceiling.
It does not matter that we have academic degrees, a broad religious education, and great human capacity. As women, our paths are blocked. We do not ask for favors or even for affirmative action. All we ask is to be treated as equals in areas where we are considered equals according to Jewish law! We want to stand side by side with men on the starting line, and compete for the job fairly. The State should allow us to compete for these professions. Not despite the fact that we are women and not because we are women, but because we are deserving and talented human beings.
Osnat is a rabbinical court advocate and attorney who serves as director of Yad L’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network.