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Yesterday was the Kolech Conference (Forum of Religious Women- Feminism is not in the title but it is an unspoken part of their charter). Though I was only able to stay for two sessions – I did hear a few thoughts that moved me and made me think.

I felt an overall push this time for women to take up the reigns of leadership – as poskim and as Rabbis. More so than in the US, the modern religious community in Israel feels very bound by halakha, is fluent in the texts that make this system, and still refers to Rabbis for ‘heterim’ or dispensations when their personal needs and law conflict. Which means the realm of writing psak and answering questions engenders Rabbinic control of the community.

Malkah Petrokovsky (Midreshet Lindenbaum) spoke about the importance of family planning and urged Rabbis, Poskim and teachers to take up the issue of birth control and family planning in a public and serious manner. In her experience many of her students feel required to have children immediately and if they ask for a “heter” to take birth control they will often receive permission for only 6-8 months.

I thought her call to put this topic on the table was very strong and well put. She was both emotional about the need to take up this issue and persuasive about the ability for the halakha to cope with change and adapt itself to people’s individual needs.

She also advocated a different vision of halakhic consultation where the posek or poseket gives the lay person the knowledge they need to make such personal decisions on their own, yet within the halakhic system. (In the US many modern orthodox couples  already feel that this question should be decided without consulting a Rabbi or halakha).

The question arose at the conference: what changes will occur as women become more vocal and respected within halakhic decision making world. Malkah’s speech suggested that the topics discussed and the sensitivities brought to the table will be different. But her words also suggest that the approach to psak and the structure of hierarchy and control will be different. A “Feminist” halakhic expert (female or male) may no longer dictate law; He or She use their knowledge to empower people to make knowledgeable decisions in light of Jewish law.


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