Women in Judaism: No Reverse

Religious women’s Kolekh organization, often termed “militant,” aroused opposition this week to its calls for women rabbis and religious decisors.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 12:14 PM

Torah study
Torah study
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The religious women’s Kolekh organization, often described as “militant,” held a conference this week in which it called for women rabbis and religious decisors.  Rabbi Yaakov Ariel and others object: “Times may change, and the implementation of Jewish Law may change – but not the principles thereof.”

Speaking to Arutz-7’s Hebrew newsmagazine, Rabbi Ariel said he did not want to relate to Kolekh per se other than to note that it was unfortunate that the group does not consult with high-ranking Halakhic [Jewish-legal] authorities and rabbis before their gatherings.

Rabbi Ariel, a past and possibly future candidate for Chief Rabbi of Israel, acknowledged that the role of women in society has changed unrecognizably over the centuries and decades: “When the Rambam [Maimonides, 1138-1204] was alive, women would leave their house perhaps twice a month. Now, however, so many things have changed that such a situation is unheard of; technological advances and even things such as one-time diapers mean that a woman no longer has what do all day in the house. Women have to go out and work and study – and the more the woman is outside the home, it means that the husband must spend more time inside; it’s unreasonable for a woman who works all day to still assume the entire yoke of running the household.”

“However,” Rabbi Ariel emphasized, “even with all the changes, the principles of Jewish Law do not change. The implementation of the Law, however, can change – and the best example is the ruling by the Chafetz Chaim [Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, d. 1933, author of the classic Mishna Berurah on Jewish Law], who is not suspected of being a Reform Jew. He ruled [in his Halakhic compendium on Kodshim] that women today must study Torah, because of the fact that she no longer necessarily learns all she needs to know about Judaism from her family’s home. In addition, as women receive more secular education, they must also keep up in Torah education as well; a female doctor must be able to understand at least the gist of a Halakhic responsum on medical matters, and a social worker must know what the Torah says about her field.”

Technological Advances are Part of the Divine Plan
“Though the changes have also brought about negative things – less modesty and much more permissiveness and lewdness, women are turned into objects for sales, TV shows and internet literature, and the like - but still, we don't want to go back in time. G-d has created a dynamic world, and technological advancements are part of the Divine plan. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that the increasing equality between the sexes means that we are closer to the Final Redemption, when women and men will be more equal..."

Rabbi Ariel then related to what has become a controversial issue of late: The practice of enforcing separate-gender seating on some bus routes on which hareidi-religious Jews travel. 

“There cannot be all-out separation," Rabbi Ariel said. "The world today is much more mixed. But that’s precisely the point; because of that, there must be more consideration on both sides. There would be no need for things like separate seating on buses if people were simply more considerate of one another. Of course it’s a problem for women to have to go to the back; there must be more respect for women. But on the other hand, women should dress more modestly, and neither men nor women should push their way through crowds of the other gender; these are straightforward matters of Jewish Law. Women should demand an end to their use and portrayal as objects. If everyone was more considerate, then the world would be a better place.”

Mrs. Sarah Eliash, a former principal of the girls’ religious high school (ulpanah) in Kedumim, said that Kolekh should be less militant, and that despite the irreversible changes that have come over the world, “we must strive, even artificially, to retain the traditional family structure in which the man of the house stands at its helm… I once heard from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin that he believes not in feminism, but in ‘familism.’”