Female Kosher Supervisors: New Opportunities for Gender Equality?
For the very first time, Israeli Orthodox women might be able to serve as kosher supervisors – mashgichot – in any Israeli establishment that the Chief Rabbinate certifies as Kosher.
Following a 2012 petition to the Israeli Supreme Court, led by Emunah – A National Religious Women’s Organization, the Chief Rabbinate has permitted women to take the test to qualify as a mashgiach.
Last week in Jerusalem, nine women took the exam, and if they pass, they will be the first female mashgichot recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. This is one important example of how traditionally observant women have found new ways to serve as halachic authorities in their communities, without transgressing traditional gender barriers, which leads some to question how much of an advancement this step truly is.
As more Orthodox women are recognized as authorities on certain areas of Jewish law, it is possible that current obstacles to women becoming Orthodox rabbis might break down. However, that these women are often viewed as authorities in areas traditionally associated with a woman’s role, like kashrut, health and sexuality and family purity, it also seems that these new opportunities further entrench gendered roles.
Whether in the long term the latter proves to be true, it could still be deemed an important victory for Orthodox women – whether or not the aim is to transcend traditional gender roles, to be acknowledged as an expert in Jewish law is critical. That is a step forward, whether it happen in a gendered context or not.
- Read the full story about the women who took the test to be kosher supervisors.
- Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, offered her perspective on barriers within the Jewish community in Israel.
- Learn about the history of gender equality and religion in Israel from the Jewish Women’s Archive.