After converting to Judaism and undertaking three intensive years of Jewish studies, 40-year-old former journalist Eliora Peretz recently became one of the few women in Israel to receive an Orthodox rabbinical ordination. She was born in France into a Christian family and was not an obvious candidate to become a pioneering Orthodox rabbi in Israel, as AFP reports.
Female rabbis have become increasingly common in more liberal Jewish denominations, but among the Orthodox, opportunities for high-level religious study and positions of religious authority are reserved for men. Israel’s Orthodox-controlled chief rabbinate has also refused to recognize Peretz’s credentials, meaning she cannot officiate at a recognized synagogue.
Peretz told AFP that she does not see herself as an activist for rabbinical gender equality, but rather as a “pioneer” and someone comfortable pointing out the injustices of the Israeli rabbinical establishment. . “There is nothing written in our religious texts that prevents a woman from marrying a couple, but it is forbidden in Israel,” said Peretz, a married mother of two, during an interview in a synagogue in Jerusalem.
Although current rules prevent her from officially leading a congregation, she said she could “be a spiritual guide, offer lessons and answer questions from congregants…just like any male rabbi.” Peretz, a French-Swiss dual national, received his ordination from Daniel Sperber, winner of the prestigious Israel Prize for his achievements in Talmudic study and a revered rabbi who challenged the Orthodox establishment.
Sperber particularly made headlines in 2020 for being a rare member of the Orthodox community to speak out against “gay conversion therapy,” a practice widely seen as a violation of human rights.
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In 2019, a group of Orthodox women went to Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn a ban preventing them from taking the male-only rabbinical exam. There has not yet been a final decision in this case.
Currently, only one Israeli citizen leads an Orthodox congregation. Shira Mirvis has been named the “spiritual leader” of a community in the settlement of Efrat in the occupied West Bank, but she too has not been recognized by Israel’s rabbinate nor does she officially serve as rabbi.
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