Sunday, November 2, 2008

Woman prime minister - permitted by halacha?

YNet reports:

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas' spiritual leader, said last week that in principle, a woman could be the prime minister of Israel. The halachic ruling was given in response to a question sent to the rabbi, and clearly stated that it was only in principle and did not refer specifically to the general elections, a ruling which is to be given by the Council of Torah Sages.

Rabbi Yosef discussed this issue at length in the Hebrew website "Halacha Yomit" saying, "Regarding appointing a woman as prime minister – if she conducts herself with dignity and honesty, and is instrumental in strengthening religion more than any man who submits his candidacy, then we most certainly should give preference to electing the woman."

Despite the ruling, Yosef addressed the problematic aspects of the matter. He mentioned that the Sages of Blessed Memory learned from the verse, "Be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses" (Deuteronomy, 17:15), that it should be a king and not a queen that would rule of over Israel, and therefore, a woman could not be appointed queen of Israel as long as there is a king who is as fit to rule.

He added that Maimonides wrote the above verse applied not just to kingship, but to all positions of public rule. Yosef continued to say that this was only Maimonides' opinion, which the other sages, who said gender was only an issue in kingship, did not share. Yosef said that Nahmanides's writings also showed that if David had not had any sons, it would be lawful to say that David's daughter was queen, and she could even bequeath kingship to her sons, as he wrote that the reason David couldn't leave the kingdom to his daughter was because he had sons. Therefore, it seems there is no absolute restriction on woman taking on public authority posts, even as queen, as long as the path taken to leadership was taken with modesty.

Yosef also metioned Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's ruling in the case of a woman whose husband, a kashrut supervisor, passed away, leaving her with no way to support her family. The woman, being educated and God fearing, wanted to take on her husband's supervising job, which would also entail ruling over a large group of workers. "The question brought to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein," wrote Yosef, "was if there is any reason to prevent her from this, when it is vital for her livelihood. After deliberating long and hard, and deciding to allow her to take on the position, one rabbi spoke out against him, saying his ruling in this matter would lead to a breakdown, when the State of Israel sees that such a great rabbi allowed a woman to be a kashrut supervisor, and will lead to having women in the State's parliament.

"Finally, Rabbi Feinstein addressed the matter of the parliament in the State of Israel, where heretics and Shabbat desecraters are appointed, which is completely forbidden in the Torah." Yosef said. "As Maimonides wrote, anyone who is not God fearing, even if they carry great wisdom, should not be appointed among Israel's leaders. And the whole point of leadership in Israel is to strengthen the power of the Torah and not, heaven forbid, to weaken it.

Regarding the appointment of women, it is clear that if the chance to vote between a woman who is fit and a man who is not fit arises, we should certainly give preference to electing the woman over the man who is not fit."

In summary, Yosef said, "In regards to appointing a woman as prime minister – if she conducts herself with dignity and honesty, and is instrumental in strengthening religion more than any man who submits his candidacy, then we most certainly should give preference to electing the woman. "It is absolutely forbidden to support any party whose representatives are not God fearing," he added. "On the contrary, we must vote in favor of representatives that strengthen the power of the Torah. And if people who are not fit can be found in all the parties, then the ones that are closer to religion should be favored."


  1. Is Rabbi Yosef giving the go-ahead for Sraha Palin as well?

    Rabbi Yosef may be really be giving a blessing and green light to Sarah Palin and the Repulican ticket, but he cannot be so open and meddling in US internal afairs. ASs for Livni, it is not a sure thing that she will manage to win in February given that she could not even cobble together a coalition now.

    More critically and up to date after all, there definitely are many of Orthodox Sefardi Jews in America who rely on Rav Yosef as the posek ha'acharon and have surely sought his views on how to vote in the upcoming US presisdential election on November 4th.

    We already have "Jersey girl" here on this blog who lectures long and loud to us, so why not have a lady as an Israeli PM? Or as USA Vice-President/President by the way...So now that I think about it, maybe Rav Yosef is actually giving a roundabout green light to the Republican ticketwith Sarah Palin on it and his gift to them as a heter for a woamn to be political leader (she is after all a huge friend of Israel and the Jews -- unlike Hussein Obama who has the shadiest collection of sonei Yisrael lined up behind him in living memory of a candidate) and hence Rabbi Yosef's long-distance and indirect blessing to be matzliach. It's possible.

    Incidentally, there have been some reports that Sarah Palin's maternal grandparents were both born Jewish, based on an Email I received that claims as follows:

    "Is Sarah Palin Jewish?

    Yes, based on Jewish tradition that makes one 'Jewish' if born to a mother of Jewish ethnic decent, although touting at least a mask of evangelical christianity. was most upset about her relationship with Jews for Jesus, see

    Sarah Palin's mother (Sally Sheigam) was of Lithuanian Jewish heritage and so were both of her mother's parents (Louise Sheigam and Shmuel Sheigam). Her father Chuck Heath can also be considered of Jewish blood because his mother, Beatrice Coleman, was of Jewish decent. Further information on Governor Palin's ancestors can easily be found in the vital records in the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius. The Archives holds birth, marriage, divorce, and death records for the Lithuanian Jewish community from 1851 until 1915 when the Jews were required to leave the country because of World War I. They are in 18th Century Cyrillic script and Yiddish. Many of these records include the mother's maiden name and town of registration.

    Palin has three flags in her office: the flag of Alaska,the flag of the United States,and the flag of Israel. Two of Palin's prominent Alaska Jewish allies, Rabbi Joseph Greenberg and businessman Terry Gorlick, told Politico they consider her a friend of the Jews...see

    In addition, when she ran for governor, the Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks issued the following statement: By choosing Governor Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential candidate, John McCain once again demonstrates good judgment and a commitment to challenging politics-as-usual. As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska's Jewish community.

    Palin's Maternal Grandfather And Grandmother

    Her maternal grandfather, Schmuel Sheigam, was a Lithuanian Jew, born in 1912 in Vilkaviskis, Lithuania. The Sheigams: The grandmother was a Jewess named Gower.

    The names were altered. At Ellis Island Immigration Centre, the name was entered as Sheeran, a standard practice when immigration officers were unable to understand the pronunciation of non-English speaking immigrants. They are buried in the Jewish cemetery at Budezeriai."

    Time will tell and it's only two days to go...!

  2. The claim about Sarah Palin's Jewish ancestry is not true. See my writeup here:

    Kol Tuv,

  3. Thank you Josh Waxman for clarifying that. I hadn't done more research, just puzzled by the Email I got, but yours proves that Sarah Palin is not Jewish. Who needed a meshumedes in the White anyhow. Now she can just be a plain oheves es Yisroel and from the chasidei umos ha'olam.

  4. Haredi woman joins Meretz and becomes an MK!

    VIN of 11/4/08 (News Source: Ynet) reports at

    "Knesset Swears in First Haredi Woman

    Israel - The Knesset made history today when it swore in its first female Orthodox MK, just before it enters a pre-election recess on Monday. MK Tzvia Greenfield joined the Knesset on behalf of the Meretz Party, to replace retiring MK Yossi Beilin.

    Greenfield is a doctor of political philosophy, and her achievements include the signing of the Geneva Initiative.

    "It is a very special feeling to be an MK," she said. "One of the important reasons I have for feeling this way is that I am an ultra-Orthodox MK of Meretz."

    She added, "I am creating an important precedent as a woman born and raised in the ultra-Orthodox society who is entering the Knesset on behalf of Meretz, to promote the pluralist values of humanity and human rights – this is an incredible privilege for me."

    Greenfield is set to participate in her first vote on Wednesday, when a bill enabling the distribution of assets prior to the finalization of divorce is scheduled to be up for its second and third reading. "I feel very privileged to be supporting this bill," she said.

    The new MK was somewhat apprehensive about the way in which other ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset would react. "I think it's difficult for them to understand this and to understand me, though I haven't spoken to everyone," she said.

    "If they respond with anger, it's mostly because it's difficult for them to believe that people can transcend their own sectarian boundaries."

    Greenfield hopes to kick off a revolution with her new career. "I see myself as a pioneer to be followed by many other people, especially women who want to break through the rules of separation in Israeli society," she said. "We will prove that Israeli society can be reorganized"."

  5. Recipients and Publicity said...

    Haredi woman joins Meretz and becomes an MK!
    She lives here in Har Nof - don't know why she is being called chareidi except that it makes for more interesting headlines.

  6. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Conservatives appoint a lady rabbi Executive Vice President.

    From Haaretz on Sun., November 09, 2008 Cheshvan 11, 5769 at

    "Historic moment in N.Y. as first woman named to lead Rabbinical Assembly

    By Anthony Weiss

    The central organization for Conservative rabbis has appointed a woman as its top executive, making it the first of the three major Jewish denominations to appoint a woman as the head staffer for one of its organizational bodies.

    The Rabbinical Assembly announced on October 29 that Rabbi Julie Schonfeld had been appointed to take over as its new executive vice president.

    Schonfeld will replace Rabbi Joel Meyers, who will step down in July of 2009 after 20 years running the R.A.

    "It's 23 years after the first woman was ordained in the movement," Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor at the American Jewish University told the Forward.

    "That's a generation, basically. We're finally at the point at which a woman could be appointed to a major administrative post within the movement."

    Despite the historic nature of the appointment, Schonfeld herself downplayed the importance of her gender.

    "I think that my rabbinate is really defined by the ideals that I share with all of my colleagues and with all Conservative Jews worldwide, regardless of my gender," Schonfeld told the Forward.

    The move comes at a time when the Conservative movement has been undergoing a major shift in its leadership. Arnold Eisen took over as chancellor of the movement's flagship school, the Jewish Theological Seminary, in 2006, and the movement's synagogue wing, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, is in the process of looking for a new executive vice president.

    In the last decade, the Conservative movement has struggled with shrinking membership roles and debates about the proper mission of the movement.

    Sense of territorialism

    Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Masorti movement, Conservative Judaism's Israeli wing, said he hoped that the change in leadership would revitalize the movement and lead to greater cooperation between its agencies.

    "I think it will diminish the sense of territorialism and make the movement more appealing and stronger," Sacks told the Forward.

    Schonfeld will not be a totally new face to the R.A., having served as the organization's director of rabbinic placement since 2001. During that time, she worked on a variety of issues, including a comparative study of rabbis' career advancements by gender.

    Schonfeld will also offer continuity in another sense, as both she and Meyers are members of the Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y."


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