Orthodox Jewish women have a reason to celebrate this month.
Ten years ago, Nishmat, an advanced Torah study center for women in Israel, was founded as part of a larger experiment. The center sought to certify female students as experts in rabbinic law without overstepping the strict rules of the Orthodox faith. Orthodox rules do not prohibit this type of certification, though strict Orthodoxy does not allow women to be ordained as rabbis.
In 1999, Nishmat awarded the first Yoatzot Halacha (rabbinically-certified women consultants in Jewish Law) certificates to two female scholars. All graduates were certified experts pending a re-evaluation every 10 years. The program has graduated 61 female scholars in the 10 years since it was created. On October 11, Rabbis Yaakov Varhaftig and Yehuda Henkin announced that the 10-year limit on certification had been officially lifted, essentially declaring the program a success.
Rabbi Henkin said in a press release:
Because we understood the historic and political significance of creating women halachic experts - we were stepping where no one had in 3,000 years - we chose to proceed with caution … Now, ten years later, the Yoatzot Halacha program is no longer just a promising experiment - it is a vibrant reality for the Jewish people. The achievements of the Yoatzot are great and their positive effect on the community-at-large is so clear that we are removing this restriction permanently.
Female Jewish scholars are still rare (the center has 61 graduates) but the response to female rabbinic experts has demonstrated a largely unrealized interest by Orthodox female Jews in rabbinic law-related questions. Thanks to the hotline Nishmat offers to the international community, Israel National ...1
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