A group of haredi women insist that haredi political parties and rabbinical leaders are intentionally "misleading the public" by claiming that Jewish law forbids women from running for public office and serving in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
No Representation, No Votes: Haredi Women Threaten Not To Vote For Haredi Parties That Refuse To Put Women On Their Knesset Lists
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessaih.com
A group of haredi women insist that haredi political parties and rabbinical leaders are intentionally "misleading the public" by claiming that Jewish law forbids women from running for public office and serving in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, Ynet reports.
The women have reportedly launched a Facebook page to rally support for their cause titled “Not elected – not voting,” in which the women threaten not to vote in the upcoming national elections unless the tow major haredi political parties – the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism (UTJ) Party and the Sefardi Shas Party add women to their Knesset lists.
The women claim that, "there is no halakhic prohibition against a woman serving as a Knesset member…People don’t know it, and the parties and their leaders are clearly interested in hiding it…[but] women today have access to Jewish holy and literary sources" and have access to halakhic arguments and primary sources.
"The parties say that it is inappropriate for a woman to be elected to Knesset for modesty reasons. So we ask, is it appropriate for a woman to work as a lawyer? Is it appropriate for her to run a school, to be a journalist, editor, advertiser, CEO?
"All these are positions which require women to come out of their kitchens, to be in touch with the public, to provide service, to talk, to express themselves,” the women’s Facebook page notes, adding that the biblical character Deborah the Prophetess was also a judge, a leader and a military commander. “[H]er case is a precedent allowing women to serve in a public role – especially when appointed by the public."
Maimonides, the 12th Century codifier of Jewish law who lived most of his adult life in Egypt, is often cited as a primary source for forbidding women from taking public communal leadership roles or holding public office.
The women, however, argued that Maimonides had reservations over women filling these roles or holding public office only with regard to the monarchy issue.
"Today, when women serve in so many public roles, why should they have a smaller share in the Knesset – a place where important decisions are made with regard to them, and to their families, and to the entire nation? Is the same modesty not important when they are forced to go out and support a yeshiva student [they married]?,” the women asked rhetorically.
The women concluded by saying that the haredi political parties were trying to maintain "a paternalistic social structure in which a woman has no voice, in which she is completely paralyzed, in which she is excluded from the important crossroads in her life, and in the life of the nation and the state.”
Attorney Dov Halbertal, a rabbi who was known as an associate of the late haredi leader and arch conservative Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, rejected the women's claims in an interview with Ynet, describing them as "harsh rhetoric…[that must be] firmly resist[ed].” What these haredi women are trying to do, Halbertal said, “is the nightmare of the greatest sages of Israel.”
Halbertal also attacked what are perceived as haredi and Orthodox rebels who have ignored the leading rabbis and struck off on their own, either by forming their own political parties – Sefardi haredi moderate Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, for example – or joined new political that are not rabbi-approved – Rabbi Elazar Stern of Hatuna and Shai Piron of Yesh Atid, for example – or took the reigns of an existing religious party but ignored or disobeyed rabbinic leadership – Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi.
What these politicians have done, Halbertal reportedly said, “This is our spiritual destruction."
Commenting on the essence of the women’s complaints, Halbertal said that serving in the Knesset is a completely different job than all the other jobs the haredi women mentioned.
“[Serving in the Knesset] is a job based on exposure, standing in the limelight. The woman represents, the woman speaks on stage, the woman goes out to the public. This is the embodiment of immodesty. We are not talking about running a school. It's a different planet,” Halbertal reportedly said.
He noted that even the former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook (1865–1935), considered to be one of the founders of the Zionist Orthodox Movement, was strict about this issue, even more so than haredim are today, and he refused to support the right of women to vote.
(But what Halbertal didn’t say is that Kook’s view lost out, women did get to vote, and the real life situation changed. Therefore it is likely that Kook’s ruling would have changed, as well.)
Halbertal also asserted that the opinion that women cannot serve in a public role is shared by "all the great sages," and the current argument reminds him of an older dispute over the integration of a woman as a member of a local religious council.
"I remember Rabbi Elyashiv's strong objection at the time, and not just because she was Reform. In general, modesty – like Shabbat – was the most important value in his eyes. He would cancel necessary protests when he feared they would mix men and women,” Halbertal reportedly claimed.
But there is one time when women could be included on haredi party’s Knesset list – a time of a great but temporary need or emergency.
“[I]f there is a great necessity and the great sages advise us that it is a temporary need [then it would be okay],” he said.
But it would be wrong to think that the haredi opposition to women serving in Knesset is based on a power struggle or that it stops at the Knesset door, because it doesn’t, Halbertal said. He recalled a story about a yeshiva student who asked Rabbi Elyashiv if his wife was allowed to work in a place that would pay her well and advance her professionally, but where men also worked. Halbertal said Elyashiv told the student, "If you don't want her to remain your wife, send her there."
"Think about women who seek to be home more, to devote themselves to raising the children – what kind of example does this set? A woman is not allowed to serve in the public front under any circumstances. Jewish women have qualities of sensitiveness and a noble spirit, and that would contradict their modesty and status according to the Torah,” Halbertal concluded.
Rabbi Haim Amsellem’s Am Shalem political party issued the following statement to Ynet in response to the women’s demands and Halbertal’s remarks.
"We support women's right to vote and be elected for Knesset. Many years ago, [Sefardi] Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel ruled, against the opinion of many rabbis, that women have the right to vote and to be elected.
"In the Hebrew year 5757, Rabbi Chaim Amsellem issued a halakhic ruling stating that women are as worthy and talented as men, and sometimes even more. Women are in all managerial, social and economic junctions, and there is no reason for them not to be elected."
Am Shalem has one woman in the top five names on its Knesst list and a reported total of three women in the top 10.