Thursday, October 27, 2005

Storming the Halakhic Barricades

Well not quite.

Nevertheless, these 12 women, newly ordained as halakhic advisers on Jewish family purity laws, are inexorably chipping away at the barriers towards orthodox women taking a formative role in the halakhic process.
Twelve new female halachic advisers, ordained in Jerusalem on Wednesday, will help mitigate inhibitions felt by religious women in need of halachic advice on the intimacies of Jewish family purity laws.

These 12 women, the fourth graduating class of halachic advisers produced by Nishmat, a college for higher Jewish learning in Bayit Vagan, are trained to answer the same questions normally directed at a male rabbi. But as women answering questions posed by women these advisers minimize the awkwardness that often accompanies exposing intimate details on, for example, menstruation to a male stranger.

Dean of Nishmat Chana Henkin said that in many cases religious women who were apprehensive about asking a rabbi about family purity laws were needlessly stringent on themselves.
I'll say. What could be weirder and more awkward than dropping off your bloodstained underpants in a brown bag for the doorman of a building to hand over to the rabbi for him to examine! So that he can pronounce on your state of purity or its opposite. Which is the waythe process is generally handled in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the fact that women are making progress advancing in the world of halakhic decision making still has to be couched very discretely.
However, Henkin's husband, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, who, together with Rabbi Ya'acov Warhaftig, supervises the fielding of dozens of questions via Internet and a special daily hot-line, said that the advisers are not a substitute for male halachic authority.

"We purposely call them halachic 'advisers' to emphasize their role in citing known, undisputed Jewish law. But none of the women are poskei halacha (halachic authorities). None of them make decisions on new, unprecedented issues in halacha."

He added that "very few men have enough halachic knowledge to make groundbreaking halachic decisions let alone women...But the time will come when women will have the appropriate background necessary to make innovative halachic decisions."
Moreover, looks like the women, as opposed to the men, are actually getting the medical knowledge necessary to answer these questions authoritatively. Under the radical assumption, no doubt, that the 5th century world was not the acme of knowledge about female biology.
Rabbi Henkin said that during their two-year course of studies female halachic advisers cover all of the studies demanded by the Israeli Rabbinate for rabbinic ordination.

But unlike the men, the women are required to study physiology, anatomy and certain medical issues such as the effect of birth control on the body and fertility problems.

"We also require women to learn basic psychology, sexology and counseling," Rabbi Henkin said.
I wonder when the male halakhic authorities on matters of nida are going to be required to have appropriate medical knowledge?


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