Do you see any contradiction on being an Orthodox Jew and a leader for women rights in Israel?
Not at all! Being observant does not conflict with the values of equality and pluralism inherent in the women’s right movement. The longstanding belief that religious people do not value equality is incorrect.
As a result of my deep-seated belief in equality, I expanded the name of the committee I lead from the Committee on the Status of Women and to the Committee Status of Women and Gender Equality. In the Committee’s new title, I seek to convey the need for increased understanding and engagement within the realm of gender equality.
In addition, the first action I took as soon as chairwoman of the committee was to invite groups that are generally not represented in the Knesset to take part in the work of my committee and thereby be represented. For example, I included Arab women because, of the three Arab parties, they only have one woman representative. I also invited Ultra-Orthodox women that do not have the possibility to be elected to their parties. I created this opportunity for minorities and sectors such as these and more because I desire to work for all women in Israel.
Do you see yourself as an exception among Orthodox women?
At some moments, yes. I am constantly being invited to conferences, initiatives and events of Orthodox women who consider me an important step towards what they are trying to accomplish. Even this week, at Israel’s largest Midrasha, Midreshet Lindenbaum, I encouraged the teachers of Halacha by assuring them about the change that I would soon be leading to enable women’s learning programs to receive funding and assistance similar to the funding men receive who learn Torah. Only through dialogue between men and women will we find productive and appropriate responses to the most pressing issues of our time in Israel and around the Jewish world.
Do you think the Secular community has a mistaken view of the treatment of women among the Orthodox?
I am pleased that also at this level, there has been immense progress due to the increased interaction between religious and secular women. The walls of stereotypes we once built between each other used to inform us about groups foreign to us are no longer relevant. In addition, the cooperation between religious and secular women in Knesset can serve as a paradigm of productive cooperation between religious and secular in general.
Do you think women can work as a bridge between the Secular and Orthodox communities in Israel and the diaspora?
Yes, definitely. I committed myself to this endeavor even before I became a member of Knesset. My book, “A Jewish Women’s Prayer Book,” is a book of prayers of women throughout the ages. It is a bestseller in Hebrew and I made certain that it would be accessible to Jews around the world by translating it into English and Italian; and now, I’m working on translating it to Spanish and Russian.
I am also currently working on pieces of legislation that would make Judaism more accessible to the general population.
I firmly believe that women have the power to lead change in general, and in the Jewish future in particular.