Founded in 1998, Kolech is the first Orthodox Jewish feminist organization in Israel that aims to increase public awareness and bring about change in Israeli religious society.
Over the last thirty years, religious society in Israel has witnessed several innovations that potentially challenged the male hierarchy. These include the establishment of women’s study centers (midrashot) for high-level study of Talmud for women and girls; the training of women as rabbinical advocates (toanot) whose aim is to help women appearing before rabbinical courts, and third, the training of women to serve as halachic advisers with regard to the halachot of niddah (yoazot halacha).
These innovations have been of major importance in heightening the sense of empowerment of religious women and stimulating their desire to organize for the achievement of their goals. These developments brought about cooperation between Torah-educated women and a small number of rabbis who favor an egalitarian approach.
The success of these initiatives has proved that they answer a real need. Moreover, they have also demonstrated to the religious community that they do not represent any infringement of the halachic system.
The formation of women’s organizations, as distinct from the co-opting of women to men’s organizations, is perceived as an extremely effective strategy for the achievement of women’s goals. In this way women strengthen their own self-awareness.
One of the most impressive parts of Kolech used to be its leader, Chana Kehat, who was raised in a distinguished family of haredi Torah scholars and later became a “religious Zionist.” She possessed outstanding leadership qualities. Over and above her intellectual capabilities and her knowledge of halacha and Jewish thought, she demonstrated great sensitivity and dedication to the organization’s goals.
A mother of a large family and an eloquent public speaker, she captivated all her met with her personality. Representatives of the press frequently interviewed her, seeking and airing her views on a wide variety of topics affecting women and halacha. The organization was virtually synonymous with her persona. In 2004, when Kehat resigned for personal reasons, a committee of twelve women was formed to replace her.
The name of the organization, “Kolech: Religious Women’s Forum,” was chosen with the express intention of bringing the female voice to center stage, inspired by a famous verse from the Song of Songs: “Let me hear your voice…” The female voice must be restored to its proper place in history!