Women Torah scholars can take Jewish law exams, Supreme Court finds

The Supreme Court  found that preventing women from taking Jewish law accreditation exams is discriminatory.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Women Torah scholars in Israel can take officially accredited Jewish law exams, the State of Israel announced last Thursday.

Women who pass the exam will receive a certificate stating they are experts in Jewish law and entitled to the same benefits as men with the designation, but they will not be ordained as rabbis or serve as judges in rabbinical courts.

The decision came in response to a Supreme Court petition filed by nonprofit organization Nashot Halacha, with attorneys Elad Caplan and Sarah Weinberg from ITIM – the Jewish Life Advocacy Center on behalf of petitioners Sarah Segal Katz, Rachel Keren and Deborah Evron.

Katz, Keren and Evron argued that denying women the right to take Jewish law exams is discriminatory, as men who take the exams are entitled to special benefits.

In 2016, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said that rabbinical ordination would be considered equivalent to a bachelor’s degree for Israeli government employees.

In civil service fields ranging from law enforcement to the Tax Authority, a rabbinical ordination entitles employees to higher salaries and additional opportunities for career growth.

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“A man who has learned in yeshiva for several years can be tested on his knowledge and become eligible to apply for various jobs,” Elad Caplan, ITIM’s managing director and a lawyer in the case, told Haaretz.

“Meanwhile, a woman who undertook identical studies, or even longer ones, and has great knowledge of Torah and halacha [Jewish law] currently isn’t entitled to be recognized because she can’t take the rabbinate’s exams.”

In response to the petition, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit acknowledged that the practice was legally problematic, as denying women the opportunity to take the Jewish law exam effectively means they have fewer opportunities for salary and career growth than men.

Mandelblit wrote that he’s currently in talks with various state offices to facilitate the women’s track of the accreditation exams, which will most likely be administered by the Higher Education Ministry.

The rabbinate said in a statement, “The Jewish law and tradition that the rabbinate must maintain does not allow for the training of women in the rabbinate.”

It emphasized that its main role in Israeli society is to train and ordain rabbis, and that it is “not an institute for higher education.”