Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Tacit Approval of Yoatzot Halacha

2013 Yoatzot Halacha graduates
It seems that my support for Yoatzot Halacha is becoming more mainstream. Which is a good thing.  A Yoetzet (Yoatzot is plural of Yoetzet) Is a female Halachic adviser on issues pertaining to Hilchos Niddah – otherwise known as Taharas HaMishpacha.  These women must go through intensive study of those Halachos, are tested, and if they pass, they are given the title: Yoetzet.

In the not too distant past it was vehemently rejected by right wing Yeshiva and Chasidic world. They saw this innovation as a step toward ordaining women as rabbis. Furthermore they feared that as educated as these women were, they were still not in the category of Poskim. Who have spent decades studying Torah before they even thought about getting an ordination. And in most cases doing Shimush – apprenticing with a qualified elder Posek before Paskening Shailos on their own.

But these fears were clearly put to rest by the Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, the Posek - who together with his wife and Nishmat founder, Rabbanit Chana Henkin - founded and designed the pioneering Yoetzet program in Israel. Rabbi Henkin clearly defined the role of the Yoetzet as a knowledgeable advisor but not a Posek. She would not Paskin difficult Shailos but refer them to a qualified Posek.

Nevertheless, the right wing has fought this phenomenon. They rejected Rabbi Henkin’s explanation and remained opposed to it.

I have not heard too much opposition to Yoatzot of late. Not because the Yoatzot phenomenon has fizzled out. Quite the contrary. It has expanded. Perhaps that's because the right wing has much bigger fish to fry. On the other hand they have never been reticent to continue condemning things they believe are wrong no matter how big or how small. With the growing number of Yoetzet in America, one would have expected to hear further statements condemning it. To the best of my knowledge, none have been forthcoming. 

Perhaps they finally recognize the need and value of a group of women educated in Hilchos Niddah be available to women that might otherwise have been embarrassed to ask a male rabbi… or embarrassed even for her husband to ask him. That this has always been the way things had been done, doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved. There is little doubt in my mind that a lot of Shailos don’t get asked because of embarrassment. Which is why I have always given my full throated endorsement to them.

I am happy to say that in November of 2013, the current Av Beis Din of the CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council), Rabbi Yona Reiss participated in the first US Yoetzet Halacha graduation ceremony. (As did, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, Rav Ahron Soloveichik’s grandson.)

Lest someone think that the CRC Beis Din is some sort of Modern Orthodox entity that is looked down upon by the right, I can assure you that this is not the case. It is highly respected by the right. 

The former Av Beis Din (and current Rosh Beis Din) of the CRC, Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz has been called the Zaken Ha’Ir of Chicago by Agudah Moetzes member, Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin. Who spoke those words while addressing a Yadin Yadin  ceremony - where rabbis get that advanced Semicha qualifying them as  Dayanim - religious court judges. 

One of the 3  current CRC Dayanim is Rav Ephraim Friedman, one of the finest products the Chicago Community Kollel ever produced. He has a reputation for having very high standards of ethics and Ehrlichkeit. His 'boss' is Rabbi Yona Reiss.

It should also be noted that Chicago has Nili, the women's educational division of the YU Kollel Torah MiTzion. One of their services is providing a hotline where women educated in Hilchos Niddah (and who volunteer their time) can be called via a hotline with commonly asked questions. For political reasons they are not called Yoatzot. But for practical purposes they function in the same way.

They also host lectures at various locations throughout the city that discuss a variety of related topics. These lectures are well attended by women from the entire Orthodox Spectrum. The Chicago Mikva Association women’s education division  – headed by the wife of a Lakewood trained prominent Rav here - recently hosted the same lecture delivered to Nili just a few days before. The topic: Being Smart: Top 10 Ways to Prevent Becoming a Niddah Unnecessarily. 

None of this means that the right has now officially endorsed Yoatzot. I do not believe they have. But it is quite the tacit endorsement. Which at the end of the day, is all that really matters.Women from all walks of religious life can now feel free to discuss these sensitive topics - with a woman.