One of the more positive developments in Modern Orthodoxy is the advent of Yoatzot. These are the very bright and dedicated female Halachic advisers that fill a real need in Klal Yisroel. They have been educated in the Hilchos Niddah – the laws governing menstrual cycles pertaining to intimacy between a husband and wife (…often referred to as Taharas HaMishpacha – family purity laws).These laws are very complicated. And if purposely violated on a biblical level the consequences are Kareis – a severe penalty mentioned by the Torah that augers an untimely death at the hands of Heaven with souls being cut-off from the Jewish people.
As one can imagine that when questions arise about intimate matters, a woman may find it awkward to ask them of a male rabbi – even if he is an expert on these matters. So a lot of questions don’t get asked. The result of that can have negative consequences even if one rules strictly for themselves. It can cause unnecessary hardships on a marriage that will lead to marital disharmony. Which could often be avoided with a simple question to a rabbi.
Yoatzot have helped reduce that problem. They are trained to answer common Shailos – questions about these laws. And for the more difficult questions – they have Poskim to rely upon. It’s kind of like what the old time Rebbetzin of a Posek used to do when women came to them with Shailos – embarrassed to ask the Rebbetzin’s husband themselves. Only these women are formally trained to do it.
Yoatzot are not without controversy. Charedi rabbinic leaders do not approve of them. They consider it a form of rabbinic leadership as well as the beginning of a slippery slope towards rabbinic ordination. The Posek for this program, Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin has, however, required it to be made clear to any woman who enters this program that Yoatzot are not rabbis or Poskim. When asked for a Psak on a difficult issue, they ask a Posek.
What most people may not be aware of is that even though Charedi Poskim are opposed to this phenomenon, they have not condemned it. They have not ‘thrown these women out of Orthodoxy’. I think that’s because they realize that at the end of the day it enhances observance of a very important Halacha. So even though they don’t like it – they seem to be looking the other way.
I am very much in favor of this program. I believe that it should be expanded to every single community, Charedi and Modern Orthodox alike. Embarrassment is not the sole province of Modern Orthodox women. It is human nature to be embarrassed asking about Shailos of an intimate nature to a member of the opposite sex.
While Yoatzot are becoming a bit more common, we have a long way to go before it is widespread. In furtherance of this goal, Chicago’s Rabbi Reuven Brand, Rosh Kollel of the Yeshiva University Kollel Torah Mitzion has created and established the NILI Hotline. A group of women already trained as Kallah teachers have been given additional training to answer common questions. They are available by phone to any woman from any segment of Judaism. And like Yoatzot, they have Poskim -one of them Charedi – that deal with the more difficult questions. (Rabbi Brand wisely was careful not to call them Yoatzot, realizing that the controversial nature of the term would discourage some people from using this service.)
It is indeed a beautiful thing to see a Charedi Posek and a YU Rosh Kollel working together in harmony for the common goal of enhancing this very important Miztvah. But like Yoatzot, NILI has its own controversy. It is not endorsed or recommended by most of the Charedi Rabbis in town. Probably for the same reasons that Yoatzot are not recommended. Which is a shame since there are many women that would benefit from this hotline who may not even be aware of it. (Although I am told that there are some Charedi women that use it.)
And now Great Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis has set up Ma’ayin – a program of his own in England. From the Times of Israel:
A year in the planning, “Ma’ayan” – which means “spring” or “fountain” – will consist of three components: study of the Jewish laws of family purity, taught by Dayan Shmuel Simons of the London Beth Din; academic study about women’s health and related medical issues, to be taught by senior lecturers from University College, London; and pedagogical training focusing on adult education, so that the Ma’ayanot will be able to run community education projects.
I could not be happier about this news. This phenomenon is spreading and will hopefully catch on even in the Charedi world.
I am often asked why I am so supportive of Yoatzot and so opposed to female rabbis. One very significant difference is that the goal of the Yoatzot is not to empower women – the siren call of 21stcentury feminism.Their goal is to enhance a Mitzvah that God has mandated for them. They are trying to help people do the will of God. Which is what Judaism is all about.