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 News reports a jump from 3 to 500 in questions from Orthodox female Jews in New Jersey posed to female experts, as opposed to their local male rabbis.

Nishmat also provides a hotline where the women have answered more than 100,000 questions coming from anywhere in the world about Taharat HaMishpacha (Jewish family purity) and women's health, including fertility, sexuality and prenatal care. The Jerusalem Post reports that another 9,000 questions have been answered on the English-language website.

"If we had two or three questions a day on the hotline in the beginning 10 years ago, today we have 20 or 30," Dr. Deena Zimmerman, a physician and a graduate of the first class of halachic advisers, said before the ceremony.
"Women are much more willing to speak openly and freely about these issues when they are talking to another woman. So we are seeing not only more questions but also more detailed questions," she said.

A Jewish woman who grew up without the benefit of a female teacher expressed the emotion that Zimmerman hints at recently for the Jewish Times, describing the difference between her experience and her daughter's:

True, there were some questions that the rebbetzins, or wise women with whom we studied before our weddings, could answer. And we had been taught by them that there was nothing to be embarrassed about if we had to ask a rav a question on nidah [womanhood]; that it was all halachah [religious law] and that the rav treated our questions like any other halachic question. But logic and feelings did not coincide.

Orthodox Judaism, of course, follows a more complicated structure that must be strictly observed. The faithfulness and dedication by women studying the Torah could demonstrate that our Jewish brethren are actively seeking God. Jewish women have found a new way to study their faith while still respecting the Orthodox rules and structure of their religion. It seems it was worth the 10-year wait.