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Orthodox Woman Challenges Religious Establishment for Her Right to Serve on Local Religious Council

September 17, 1986
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An Orthodox woman has challenged the religious establishment for her right to serve on the local religious council in Yeruham, southern Israel, to which she was appointed several months ago.

Lea Shakdiel, 35, a school teacher active in public affairs, was nominated to the religious council by the local authority on which she serves as Labor Party councillor. But the appointment was blocked by the Religious Affairs Ministry, which informed her that it was “not in the realm of possibility” for a woman to fill such a post.

Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira agreed and indicated that he would issue a halachic ruling if necessary in the case. But Shakdiel decided to fight.

She noted that religious councils are in fact lay bodies which do not draw their legal authority from halacha, religious law. She added that as an observant woman she attends religious services and has found their standards often to be deplorable. Therefore, she said, it is her duty to serve on the religious council.

The councils function alongside municipalities and other local authorities. They are responsible for providing and supervising religious infrastructures including synagogues, mikvas and kashrut, usually in consultation with the local rabbinates.

They are funded jointly by the government and the local authorities The latter nominate some of the members. Others are nominated by the rabbinate and the Religious Affairs Minister.

There have been woman nominees in the past, in Jerusalem and Haifa, but the nominations were withdrawn under pressure from the religious establishment. Shakdiel has made clear she will not withdraw. She said she would appeal to a standing committee comprised of the Prime Minister and the Religious Affairs and Interior Ministers. If she loses there, she will take her case to the Supreme Court.

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