Women Judges

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The changing status of women in general society raises many questions for conservative religious groups, regarding both external and internal dynamics. R. Yosef Kafach, the great Yemenite scholar, was asked how an Orthodox Jew should relate to the ruling of a female secular judge in Israel. He responded as follows (Kesavim, vol. 1 p. 108):

To the question how to relate to the ruling of a female judge, I don’t see room for such a question. Does the defendant have a choice whether to relate or not? Additionally, the halakhah is that when the litigants accept a female she may serve as a judge. However, we can discuss the nature of this acceptance, but this is not the place. It is true that King Shlomo appointed female judges. However, we do not know for what and for whom they judged. It says in Koheles Rabbah (2:10): “Coaches and chariots (shidah ve-shidos) — male judges and female judges.” As we said, we do not know for what and for whom.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.


  1. IS this the whole Tshuva? could you post the Hebrew?

  2. Also, does this undermine the argument that women can’t be rabbis because the cant be judges?

  3. How should you relate to the ruling of a *male* secular judge in Israel?

  4. I think that R Kapach and his wife are the only two people who are husbands and wife to receive the Israel prize. He for his scholarship and his wife for her dealings with poor etc

  5. Hmm, that’s not the first time Kohelet has come up recently. Of course, that begs the question that Kohelet is, indeed, Shlomo. One wonders how “psak” would change if he weren’t.

  6. Nachum, Kisvei Kodesh is from Nevuah so why would the psak change if it was a different navi?

  7. Of course, RM.

  8. Moshe: Yes, this is the whole teshuvah. R. Kafach clearly held that women cannot serve as dayanot but may be able to perform secular functions.

  9. In the immediately preceding teshuvah, R. Kafach addresses whether a woman can serve in Knesset and he makes a joke about how anyone who knows what goes on in the Knesset would never call it serarah, implying he holds it otherwise an issue.

  10. implying he holds it otherwise an issue.

    Why does this follow? Humor is often used to simply side-step a controversial issue.

  11. It’s the same thing R’ Rakeffet says when people say that women rabbis are an issue of serarah. He means it seriously.

  12. IH: Because otherwise he would just say, “who cares that it’s serarah?”

  13. Lav davka. Without prejudice to seeing the actual text, it sounds like you’re reading in what you’d like to read in.

  14. Lawrence Kaplan

    Gil: It could be a le-shitatkha argument. That is, even were one to hold that serarah is an issue, with reference the Kenesset…

  15. Isn’t his whole point that serarah doesn’t matter if the litigants accept her?

  16. “Isn’t his whole point that serarah doesn’t matter if the litigants accept her?”

    No, I think his whole point is that the secular state is forcing you to accept the authority of a secular judge, male or female, so what is even the question?

    If I, as an ORthodox Jew, receive a court order (e.g. a subpoena) from a secular U.S. court, am I free to ignore it just because the judge assigned happens to be a woman? Try that argument when they haul you off to jail for contempt.

    It reminds me of a story (perhaps apocryhal) that when Golda Meir became prime minister, some students of R. Y.B. Soloveichik asked him whether she, as a woman, is permitted to serve in that office. He responded, “If an apikorus like Ben Gurion can be the PM, then a woman like Golda Meir can.”

    Meaning, as I understand it, the State of Israeli is not asking for, and could not care less, about the view of the Torah in the matter.

  17. So, can an Orthodox Jewish woman be: a secular judge? a secular legislator? a secular executive?

  18. Pshat of the pasuk would suggest that serara is a prohibition on the jewish community. Why should it apply at all in secular society, and what suggests it’s a chiyuv on individual women?

  19. Gil
    the text you present seems to say that R. Kapach saw the questionof dayanot as zarich iyu vakmal, not that held that it was definitely assur

  20. Emma – I would assume one could argue that the state of Israel is a Jewish community, regardless of the fact that it is secular (unless you agree and your point was directed at IH?). Also, even if there isn’t a prohibition on the individual woman, if there is a prohibition on the community then by accepting the position she presumably would have to deal with a Lifnei Iver issue (especially if the position does not necessarily have to be filled by a woman).

  21. Or, as the HaMevaser Purim parody of Nefesh HaRav )”Nofesh Ha-Rav”) put it:

    “A talmid once asked the Rav if having Golda Meir as Prime Minster violated the Rambam’s ruling against having a woman rule Israel. The Rav looked askance at the talmid and asked, ‘And Ben Gurion was OK?’ The talmid stammered for a moment and then said, ‘Well, Ben Gurion is a male.’ The Rav smiled and replied, ‘So he claims. But perhaps he’s really a trout?'”

  22. “R’ Yosef Kafach, the great Yemenite scholar?” He lived in Israel for close to 60 years!

    Do you refer to RAL as the “great French scholar” or RYSE as the “great Lithuanian scholar”?

  23. my point was directed at IH, whose question I thought was about a nonjewish “secular” state.

  24. MiMedinat HaYam

    james — actually, RYSE is almost always (properly) refered to as “lithuanian”. his psakim conform to litvish / yeshivish minhagim (which has improperly become “required halacha”.)

    interestingly, rav kafach is much more tolerant of non taimani minhagim / psaq. (as does early ROY, if you want to open up another can of worms.)

  25. “interestingly, rav kafach is much more tolerant of non taimani minhagim / psaq.”

    He certainly did not claim that Taimanei sources were always the most accurate-

  26. Emma — sorry for the ambiguity, but it was regarding Israel — following on Tal’s comment regarding Golda Meir.

  27. “No, I think his whole point is that the secular state is forcing you to accept the authority of a secular judge, male or female, so what is even the question?”

    Actually it sounds more like he’s referring to one of Tosfos’ answers.

  28. Gil
    could you please post, or send me the original Hebrew of the teshuva.

  29. “Actually it sounds more like he’s referring to one of Tosfos’ answers.”

    He is “referring” to it, but noting that, on the facts, it has no application. Judges are not someone you voluntarily accept or not accept. The court, as an arm of the sovereign state, asserts jurisdiction over you, whether you like it or not, and whoever is assigned to be the judge in your case, male or female, religious or heretic, is the judge, period.

  30. “He is “referring” to it, but noting that, on the facts, it has no application.”

    I did not get that from his language at all.

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