Francis Moritz

Israël, a plea for women against the yoke of religion

Israel, a plea for women against the yoke of religion

Men and women, we are all born free and equal… but the change comes a few minutes later…

At a time when there is a growing risk that a leaden blanket – reputedly spiritual – will fall over a majority who consider themselves Jewish, but who refuse to be locked into a single way of thinking, the fruit of the extremism of a minority – the question of who a Jew is, and what rights they have, is raised once again. The question of women’s rights is also brutally raised, since women are not recognized as having the same rights as men. Liberal Judaism has everything to fear from this regression. Women rabbis know all about it.

The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem has just made his comments. However, I confirm, he did not read this article before.

The worst has an overflowing imagination: There are those who, convinced that they hold the divine truth and are certain that they oversee it, not only want to reform the Law of Return, but would also like to retroactively cancel old files that no longer meet their new criteria. At a time when bus drivers also believe themselves to be invested with a mission by the Highest, and allow themselves to dictate how women passengers should dress, at a time when women have already been physically denied access to the Kotel, what are the rights of Jewish women in the face of religious faith, and their right to exercise it?

In 2017, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of the United States decided that a woman could not become a rabbi, whereas in Israel it has become theoretically possible.

1972 saw the first ordination of a woman rabbi, Sally PRIESAND, in the United States, within the liberal Reform community of the Hebrew Union College.  Finally, in 2000, under strong pressure from liberal and traditional Judaism, the Rabbinical Council of the United States paid lip service to the ordination of women rabbis. However, the actual appointment of women rabbis by the Orthodox has been piecemeal, with many restrictions on the tasks they can be entrusted with.

To broach this question is, of course, to provoke controversy. At the same time, it also raises the question of women’s place on an equal footing with men, and their place in the city, in the community, in life quite simply. Not to do so would be to show a lack of lucidity and realism. Just because we don’t want to see or ignore a phenomenon doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist… So, at the risk of incurring the wrath of those who don’t share my analysis, let us carry on


First observation

In the 21st century, how can we ignore the fact that any religion can ignore the world around us?

How can we continue to maintain that women can indeed study, take diplomas, teach, run businesses, cook, clean, have children? and then forbid them to lead a community? There are obviously several parameters:

A large proportion of the world’s Jews are secularized, and their daily lives are not governed by Halakha. On the other hand, the vast majority consider themselves Jewish and participate in Judaism – according to their freedom of conscience, their upbringing and their experience. Many send their children to Talmud Torah.   And most of them neither read nor speak Hebrew. In other places one would dare write, illiterate perhaps.

 Which leads us to a second observation

this reality is at the root of the constant development of liberal, and even very liberal, communities. One can certainly have an opinion on the differences between the various currents, but facts are facts. The result is that today, women are leading these communities, not only on an equal footing with men, but with such conviction and fervor that they are attracting followers back to Judaism. To caricature, we could also forbid them to vote, or show them the way?

The arguments generally put forward are based on the content of Torah, Halakha and tradition as it has existed for centuries. For this reason, young women should have been forbidden to study, to teach, to lead, and perhaps we should also have imagined having illiterate mothers, incapable of educating our children to prepare them for the problems of today’s society… The Massorah, the heritage, is put forward. For all that, I won’t get into the religious debate here, or into any Makhloquet…

In 2018, with a view to replacing the rabbi attached to the Knesset, it took pressure from Reform to change the terms of the call for candidates (only a man could obtain a certificate of validation from the Chief Rabbinate in place) so that a woman could apply.

Is it normal in Israel for women rabbis not to be able to officiate at weddings – unless that has changed?

One aspect that is little or not considered: the relationship and therefore the recognition – let’s not mince words – of the rabbinate in place and the liberal communities: fully-fledged Jews or not quite …? Can we marry them or not? Does the Talmud Torah conform or not? And what about bar-mitzvot or bat-mitzvot?

The reality is that women Rabbis have been officiating for ages. For the record, here are a few facts:

The first woman rabbi, Regina Jonas, was ordained in Germany in 1935 and was deported to Auschwitz. The next and first woman ordained in the USA was ordained 37 years later, in 1972, within the Reformation. In Israel, the first woman rabbi was ordained in 1980. There are currently some 75 women rabbis in Israel. In the Reform movement, they account for less than 50%. Among Conservatives, the percentage of male rabbis is well over 65%.

In France, the first woman rabbi was ordained in 1990. France’s two main liberal movements have merged. This confirms the thesis set out above: liberal Judaism, better adapted to its environment, is making headway in France.

In Israel, in 2022, the state passed its first law allowing women to sit the rabbinical examinations for ordination (the examiners are exclusively men, needless to say). The responsibilities entrusted to them would not, however, be on a par with their male peers.

During the previous government, Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, orthodox but receptive to women’s concerns, created a legal mechanism, allowing them to sit the exam, for the first time in January 2023. The rabbinate counter-attacked, arguing that this would be in breach of Halakha. A petition is still pending before the Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled. As Rabbanit Mali SZTRIGLER, who spearheaded the initial project, put it: “The train has left the station, the women have been waiting for years for this departure”.

Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions should certainly not be set aside or forgotten but enriched.  Sectarianism, sexism, feminism, and machismo should not prevent us from reforming to enrich and not distort, as some people, in bad faith, would have us believe. When an IDF soldier loses her life for her country, are we going to check whether she is Orthodox or ultra-liberal? Incidentally, extremists of all stripes should bear in mind that there are as many Jews in the world as there are in Israel.

Finally, when attacks are committed against Jews, the question is not asked: is it Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Orthodox or Reform? it’s only Jewish blood that’s being spilled! For the good of all, we must overcome these divisions. The most eminent, pious and wise rabbis, whose only concern is for their fellow human beings, would do well to show more openness, tolerance, benevolence and respect. Then we can continue to call them Chief Rabbis.

About the Author
Former Senior Manager and Director of Companies in major French foreign groups. He has had several professional lives, since the age of 17, which has led him to travel extensively and know in depth many countries, with teh key to the practice of several languages, in contact with populations in Eastern Europe, Germany, Italy, Africa and Asia. He has learned valuable lessons from it, that gives him certain legitimacy and appropriate analysis background.