By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM — Responding to a discrimination lawsuit, Israel has advanced the cause of women Torah scholars in their bid for more equitable treatment.
Israel will establish a set of accreditation exams for the scholars that will put them on equal footing with men who have passed the Chief Rabbinate’s qualification exams, which are not open to women.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in his decision Monday that the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to allow women to take its qualification exams is discriminatory and puts women at a professional disadvantage when applying for positions in the public sector, which requires such exams for hiring or determining salary.
The lawsuit was filed a year ago in the Supreme Court by Itim, which helps individuals navigate Israel’s religious bureaucracy; the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women, part of the Faculty of Law of Bar-Ilan University; and Kolech, an Orthodox Jewish feminist organization in Israel.
Mandelblit said in his decision that he has begun the process of installing the new accreditation system. The State Attorney’s Office has requested an extension from the court so the work can proceed.
Several institutions in Israel provide advanced training and study in Jewish law for women, but their programs are not recognized by the state.
Itim’s director, Rabbi Seth Farber, said in a statement that more and more women scholars are taking on halachic leadership roles, which he called “a great blessing to the world of Torah.”
“The state’s answer provides an opening for a change in the absurd situation, in which it is precisely the Chief Rabbinate of Israel who is the one to stop the expanding of the Torah world,” he said. “We hope that the rabbinate will take responsibility and help advance the issue.”
Lawmaker Oded Forer of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, chairman of the Committee for the Advancement of Women’s Status and Gender Equality, said the decision was “an important step towards equalizing the status of women in rabbinic and halakhic law.”
“I hope that the members of the government will stand its promise and take care of the female advancement in all sectors and all professions,” his statement said.