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Of Yoatzot and Shtenders

Some have argued that the advent of Yoatzot is a slippery slope towards the ordination of female rabbis.
woman with shtender

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What about giving these learned women a title? Is that appropriate?

Why would anyone have a problem with that? Shouldn’t those who study Torah and achieve a level of expertise in a given field be given a title that recognizes it?  More importantly why not have a standardized level of competence that an earned title represents.

One of the arguments raised against Yoatzot is that they do not add anything to observance of family purity laws. The advanatge that a woman with shailos of a personal nature would feel more comfortable speaking to a woman than a man – was already taken care of by the Rebbetzin – who was the wife of a Posek. These Rebbetzins were already advising women with embarrassing Shailos and forwarding difficult Shailos to their husbands.

While it is true that this was – and probably still  is going on, these Rebbetzins had no formal or  standardized education on this subject. It was all based on the personal experience of being married to a Posek. That there now exists women who have studied the material directly and know it well… is an improvement on that.

What about the idea that changing tradition that have been in existence for milleina is a bad idea? I don’t buy that as an absolute. And neither do some of the greatest Poskim in Jewish history.  When the time was right they supported change even in the face of much right wing opposition.

This is in fact what happened in Europe in the early 20th century when Sara Shenierer founded the Beis Yaakov schools.  The rabbinic objections were strong and went along the following lines: Women got along fine for 3000 years being religiously educated in their homes by their mothers without a Beis Yaakov.  Now suddenly they need a formal school?! And yet no less a Posek than the Chofetz Chaim supported this new and somewhat radical innovation. He felt the times required it. The same is true for Yoatzot. The advent of Yoatzot is a response to a current need. If they are feminists, so too was Sara Sheneirer.

Which is why I am pleased to see an article in the 5 Towns Jewish Times reporting that the rabbinate of that community enthusiastically endorses Lisa Septimus as its official Yoetzet. Rabbi Kenneth Hain who is quoted in the article said:

“I firmly believe that the addition of Rebbetzan Septimus as a Yoetzet Halakhah will be a wonderful asset to enhance observance and understanding of one of the most sacred areas of Jewish life.  I heartily welcome this important development in the Five Towns Community.”

Rabbi Heshie Billet another rabbi in 5 Towns added:

“The Yoetzet is not intended to replace the halachic and personal relationship between local rabbanim and rebbetzens and their congregants on this very sensitive area of religious life. Rather, it is our expectation that the Yoetzet will support that relationship, complement it, and enhance the observance of taharat-ha-mishpachah in our community.”

Ken Yirbu! I wonder whether Rabbi Feitman who is a member of this community is on board with this. Did he change his mind? I certainy hope so.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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