Israeli Rabbinate threatens to strike if forced to train women

High Court to hear a petition from Israeli feminist groups later this month


The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is threatening to go on strike if the High Court compels it to provide rabbinical training to women, a statement said last week.

The rabbinate said that it would stop administering exams to ordain state-authorised rabbis.

The move followed Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s statement to the High Court that the state was seeking to have women take the same ordination exams as men.

The Attorney General’s announcement formed part of a response to a petition by a coalition of feminist groups, including the Jewish Life Advocacy Group, Bar-Ilan’s Rackan Centre for Advancement of the Status of Women, and Orthodox feminist organisation Kolech.  

The coalition are not seeking for women to be ordained as rabbis, but simply that they can be trained and sit the exams. The groups claim that it would boost social mobility for women, secure higher paid work and apply for positions within the civil service that would otherwise be unattainable.

The High Court will hear the petition later this month.

Mr Mandelblit wrote that there were “legal hurdles” with the “current circumstances, in which the Chief Rabbinate handles the training process”.

The Attorney General said that the proposed alternative track for women could be administered by the Higher Education Ministry or the Education Ministry.  

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel hit back in a statement saying that it was “not an institute for higher education” and that its role was “to certify rabbis”.

Rejecting the idea, the rabbinate said that there was “no place” for female rabbis in Judaism and issued a warning that: “If there is a legal directive that would require us to ordain women as rabbis in violation of [Jewish law], the rabbinical ordination system as a whole will cease its operations until the proper legislation regulating this issue is in place.”

The Chief Rabbinate is Orthodox and is adamantly opposed to female clergy. Its statement said that Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef had ordered officials to stand against providing training to women.

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

The statement continued that as long as the rabbinate was ordered to train women, it would stop certifying all rabbinic training courses “pending a legislative amendment.”  

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