WIHL fellows with Rabbanit Sapir
WIHL fellows with Rabbanit SapirGershon Ellinson

In the wake of a decision by Israel’s Attorney General establishing that women’s Torah studies should be granted equal governmental recognition to those of men, Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) certified Rabbanit Shira Sapir as a "morat hora'ah" (authorized to provide direction in matters of halakha-Jewish Law) and spiritual leader.

According to Ohr Torah Stone, Rabbanit Sapir is the ninth woman to have completed the five year course of studies in OTS' Susi Bradfield Women's Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL), successfully passing examinations on a wide range of topics relevant to halacha and communal leadership. Over and above studying subjects such as Shabbat, Kashrut and Family Purity – the subjects traditionally mastered by men preparing to become rabbis – Sapir sat for an additional exam on the laws of conversion, making her the first woman in the program to embrace that track.

Rabbanit Shira Sapir
Rabbanit Shira SapirGershon Ellinson

Ohr Torah Stone’s President and Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander congratulated Rabbanit Sapir: "Just one week ago we received the good news that Israel will have to open a parallel course of testing halakhic knowledge specifically for women. I hope that these tests will be equal in seriousness to the examinations administered today for men, and that they will prove to be the final opening of the gates to spiritual and halakhic leadership by qualified women. The time has come for national recognition of your learning and your labor, for a public seal of approval on your knowledge and skills and an acknowledgement of your rights to equal pay and employment opportunities."

Due to coronavirus restrictions, Rabbanit Sapir accepted her certification at a small ceremony in Jerusalem attended by her family, teachers and fellow students. The mother of six from Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion said that the key to developing an attachment to Torah observance is based on being passionate about the subject matter. “When people are not involved and do not feel that the Torah is part of their lives or relevant to them, then apathy develops. The activity, the involvement, the discourse and the shared learning of the public with the Torah is what best preserves it and establishes the strongest connection to our heritage and observance. The privilege of women in our generation to be able to spend our days on the benches of the beit midrash and take part in the ongoing Torah discourse is a central part of the redemption process."

The certification as Morat Hora'ah and Spiritual Leader was signed by Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, president and Rosh HaYeshiva of OTS; Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin, founder and Rosh HaYeshiva of OTS; and Rabbi Shuki Reich, head of the WIHL Beit Midrash, all of whom tested Rabbanit Sapir on her halakhic knowledge.

“We've shattered the glass ceiling, but in order to tread on it we still have a lot to accomplish," Rabbi Brander said. "Women Torah scholars should be better integrated into halakhically-appropriate roles in our study halls and synagogues. We need to continue to push forward to create valuable positions in the IDF, hospitals, and the public sector where they can illustrate and convey the relevance and sensitivity of halakha to greater numbers of people. And perhaps more than anything, the contribution of women scholars is needed in the world of halakhic literature; this is one of the reasons that the WIHL also concentrates on writing, we await the day on which we will be able to fill the bookshelves with the words of women Torah scholars."

Rabbanit Devorah Evron, Director the WIHL said, "Women’s Torah scholarship is in many ways a metaphor for the times we live in. Both are defined by a long and challenging road where there are constant highs and lows. But by being focused on the goal, we know we are achieving something that will make us better people, better leaders and a better Jewish community."