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YU Observer: Paving the Way – First U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Graduation

By Zahava Rothschild • Published: November 18, 2013

Credit: Norman Goldberg
Graduates (left to right) Lisa Septimus, Nechama Price, Avital Weissman, Tova
Warburg Sinensky, Dena Block pose with their certificates of completion.

“We want Yoatzot in our community; we need Yoatzot in our community,” proclaimed Dr. Giti Bendheim, addressing the first-ever American graduates of Nishmat’s two-year U.S. Yoatzot Halachah Fellowship Program through the Miriam Glaubach Center.  Over the course of one decade, Nishmat has graduated 85 Yoatzot Halachah. The most recent five graduates proudly received their certificates of graduation on Sunday morning, October 27th, 2013.

Looking out at the filled sanctuary, Rabbi Yona Reiss proclaimed the event a “ground-breaking graduation,” speaking proudly of the first American-educated graduating class of Yoatzot Halachah. The five graduates, Dena Block, Nechama Price, Lisa Septimus, Tova Warburg Sinensky, and Avital Weissman, were immediately offered jobs in various communities and each are already situated in their formal positions. Due to the great need, yet the small but growing contingent of Yoatzot Halachah, many Yoatzot actually cater to numerous synagogues and communities simultaneously.

Since 1998, Nishmat has been rigorously training talented and compassionate women to address personal and sensitive questions concerning taharat hamishpacha (laws of family purity). Any question that needs a rabbinical determination is passed on, but many of these incoming questions concern the basic laws, often forgotten, kept incorrectly or misconstrued by couples, and can be addressed by the Yoetzet Halachah herself. The Yoatzot Halachah intensively learn the relevant Jewish law concerning family purity and attend lectures in the areas of gynecology, obstetrics, fertility, lactation, psychology, sexuality, family dynamics and genetics. Especially in light of the over 200,000 questions that have been addressed to Yoatzot Halachah in the past decade through phone calls, texts, emails, and personal meetings, Rabbanit Henkin rightfully claims that “through proven need and softness of tone, Yoatzot Halachah can meet the needs of Klal Yisrael.”

Due to high demand in Jewish communities across the U.S. for more Yoatzot Halachah, Nishmat chose to create a U.S. counterpart which would meet the rigorous standards and expectations of their Israeli program. Implemented in September 2011, the U.S. Yoatzot Halachah Fellows Program took off, beginning with an intensive week of study in Nishmat’s Beit Midrash in Israel, and continued over the c