Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu
Rabbi Shmuel EliyahuYoni Kempinski

Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, referred on Arutz Sheva to the issue of allowing women to sit for rabbinic ordination tests.

The Attorney General decided they should be allowed to sit for the exams while the Chief Rabbinate issued a firm statement that Jewish tradition and halakha do not allow women to be trained for the rabbinate, and not to serve as rabbis. In this it agrees with the clear decision (psak) issued by the most respected halakhic decisors of America's OU, forbidding women to serve as clergy, including the post of assistant rabbi, in Orthodox synagogues. If the rabbinate is forced to allow such a move, the Chief Rabbis said, the entire system of rabbinical ordination in Israel will strike.

Rabbi Eliyahu opened his words with caution. "Care should be taken here not to be misled," he says. "Women learning Torah is a wonderful and blessed thing, and to be a rabbanit who teaches Torah is wonderful. I was privileged to be born to a mother who was a rabbanit who taught a lot of Torah, my wife teaches Torah and my daughters get to learn and teach a lot of Torah. There's nothing better than that. There is nothing wrong with studying Torah and the more the better. This is how we educate the girls in the school in Tzfat. This isn't the issue. This is how it's always been."

Rabbi Eliyahu says, "The trap Mandelblit fell into is a trap of a different nature." The rabbi believes that the source of the whole storm is an attempt to duplicate in Israel the mistake made by the Reform and Conservative Movements: "They want to have women 'rabbis' and not rabbanits. Women rabbis are something they invented in the U.S. and it failed there miserably. An absolute majority of the Reform and Conservative youth threw out this entire circus and declared they weren't interested. Their 'temples' are emptying and being sold to churches. This is something that isn't sustainable. People recognize what's truth and what's falsehood and they just dump it, so we're supposed to import these defective goods into the country? Who needs it?"

And perhaps there should be an Orthodox standard for examining rabbanits to earn rabbanit certification? "There are rabbanits and anything needed to anchor the status of a rabbinit would be a wonderful thing. We have a Rabbanit's Association that does a lot and teaches a lot and it's a pleasure to see their wonderful growth, not only there but in all the midrashot in Israel." But that is not the same as being a rabbi, he explains.

"Did Mr. Mandelblit meet and hear all the midrasha women before issuing his directive, or did he just sit with a loud handful from the Reform movement? Who did he meet with? After all, the Reform movement in Israel is tiny. They have twenty or thirty 'synagogues' in the entire country, mainly open during the holidays, out of 12,000 synagogues. A fraction of a fraction, and it is with them he sat before making a decision instead of sitting with the thousands of girls who sit and learn Torah?"

On what led Mandelblit, an observant man, to reach such a conclusion, Rabbi Eliyahu speculates: "Maybe it's his friends who are misleading and confusing him."

Rabbi Eliyahu also wonders, as a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, why he didn't hear of any discussion with the Chief Rabbinate about this issue: "I've never heard him explain his position. Why are you handing down orders from above? What are you? After all is said and done you're an advisor. Important and respected but for goodness sake, where do you come off 'changing the order of Creation' with a wave of your hand and scribbling a signature?"

Rabbi Eliyahu concludes by stating that people of Torah and halakha don't wait for the Attorney Geneal to glorify women's Torah learning: "We favor women learning Torah, and as much as possible. We didn't wait for Mandelblit to tell us this Torah from Sinai, it came went down with Moshe Rabbeinu, 'So tell the House of Jacob' means the women, and we don't need the legal advisors to tell us how to learn Torah. Have a bit of humility."