by Atara Eis, Yoetzet Halacha and Director of Nishmat's Miriam Glaubach Center. First published in Times of Israel, October 20, 2014
The discovery of acts of voyeurism allegedly committed by a prominent Orthodox Rabbi in a community mikveh is a betrayal that threatens trust both in the safety of a sacred Mitzvah and the integrity of the Rabbinate. By law, the Rabbi is innocent until proven guilty, but I think we are all in shock at the spectre of one man’s unchecked perversion and abuse, and its power to tarnish a profession dedicated to guiding others to lead inspired lives of justice, respect, truth and meaning. We ache for the women and men who have been directly impacted by this alleged abuse. The safe, confidential space which most symbolizes new beginnings has been sullied and defiled. A holy, healthy, private space has been compromised and perverted. The core Jewish value of taking care of the vulnerable amongst us has been damaged. Everything mikveh represents has been flipped on its head.
I grieve as a human being, for the Rabbinic world in which I live and breathe. I grieve for the Mesorah, which has been abused and misrepresented, as my colleagues and I prepare with grim determination for the hard work we religious leaders must do to restore the trust in, and love of, the Torah’s age-old wisdom. I grieve as a Yoetzet Halacha, whose job is to educate women to love this mitzvah, to love Halacha, and to carve out a woman’s place in Jewish learning and leadership specifically through the ancient mikveh waters. I grieve for our community, which has taken yet another hit from a leader who has allegedly undermined its most fundamental values. How can we restore the trust that has just been shattered? We must combat these abuses on two fronts: by increasing the involvement and acceptance of Yoatzot Halacha and by creating ongoing oversight and professional support for clergy.
Rebuild trust through accepting Yoatzot Halacha
Welcoming women to halachic leadership will shift the entire power dynamic of Orthodox Jewish life. While adding women will not entirely guarantee that there will never be corruption or abuse of power, providing alternative viewpoints and thoughtful scholarship will minimize the kind of abuse with which we are now being forced to deal, and will increase overall respect for women. Then, we might be able to strike an even better balance in terms of gender relations than our host cultures which see no distinction between men and women and are just as plagued, if not more, by abuse. Over the last fifteen years, Nishmat has certified over eighty five Yoatzot Halacha- female halachic advisors rigorously trained in all areas of Taharat HaMishpacha- who are uniquely positioned and qualified to support this restoration by providing a level of oversight that might diminish opportunities for anyone in a position of power to prey on someone more vulnerable and less knowledgeable. Nine of these women live in North America and are already serving in twenty seven institutions. Seven more will graduate from Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center’s U.S. Program this summer. This crisis has opened Orthodoxy to the stinging challenge of misogyny; welcoming Yoatzot Halacha at this time will say louder than anything else that women are respected and valued by Orthodoxy.
Yoatzot Halacha respect and embrace the slow process of halachic change and have not expected our acceptance to come overnight. Still, after seeing the impact we made in just fifteen years of serving communities in Israel, North America and England, over forty well-respected mainstr