Advocacy Statements

JOFA Advocacy Statements


JOFA Advocacy Statement in Response to the OU's Statement Regarding Women Clergy


JOFA is dismayed by the OU's decision to squander the opportunity to engage in the rich tradition of mahloket l'shem shamayim, conflict for the sake of heaven. We are confused as to why this is being raised now after women have been serving as halakhic spiritual leaders in OU synagogues for well over a decade. This statement fails to acknowledge the vast number of Modern Orthodox Jews and communities throughout America and Israel that already have female leadership. Orthodox Judaism is diverse in practice, religious outlook, and day to day milieu. While we appreciate that an halakhic authority might conclude that women clergy are forbidden, others have arrived at different conclusions. During a time of stark division, when unity could not be more necessary, it remains unclear why OU would choose to focus on such a divisive issue. We embrace mahloket and invite all swaths of the community, including the OU, to engage in open, healthy debate, as we all want our communities to thrive in Torah.

JOFA Advocacy Statement in Response to RCA's Resolution on Modern Orthodoxy


JOFA welcomes the RCA's recent statement of its vision for modern orthodoxy in the 21st Century, and is particularly heartened by the RCA's commitment to communal unity, to supporting every person in "maximizing his or her religious expression, observance, and growth in private and public," and to fostering opportunities for women's lay and professional involvement. While we occasionally differ with some members of the RCA on precisely how to apply our eternal Torah to ever-changing circumstances and with regard to which poskim we turn for guidance, the RCA's recent statement provides a welcome reminder that what unites the Orthodox community is so much greater and more fundamental than our our occasional differences of opinion. We look forward to working with the RCA, the IRF and other communal organizations to advance this vision for a halakhically committed, faithful, inclusive community.


JOFA Advocacy Statement in Response to the RCA's Resolution on Halakhic Prenups


JOFA applauds the RCA's new resolution in regard to the halakhic prenup that was made public on September 23, 2016. The new policy mandates the use of a halakhic prenup by its 1000 member rabbis when they officiate at a wedding. While we recognize that this will not address the issue of existing Agunot in our community, we are hopeful that the new policy becomes standard practice, thus preventing hundreds of women and their families from falling victim to abusive use of the laws of Gittin.


JOFA Advocacy Statement in Response to Rabbanut's Hold on Conversion


JOFA is dismayed by the Rabbanut's rejection of conversions certified by Rabbis Gedalia Dov Schwartz and Mordechai Willig, yet we are hardly surprised by these latest additions to the Rabbanut's growing blacklist of American Orthodox rabbis. Its rejection of two rabbis of such prominent halakhic stature belies the Rabbanut's insistence on wielding all power and control and its rejection of American Orthodox rabbinic authority. We believe it is wrong for the Rabbanut to use the lives of individuals and their Jewish status as pawns in a power play. Individual communities should rely on their local Orthodox rabbinic leadership to determine who is a Jew, as has been the practice in Jewish communities throughout the world for millennia.


JOFA Statement in Support of the Ordination of Women as Orthodox Spiritual and Halakhic Leaders


JOFA welcomes the RCA's recent reaffirmation of the importance of women's advanced Torah learning and communal leadership. We note with particular pleasure the RCA's explicit endorsement of some of the wonderful programs that train and teach outstanding women scholars and leaders, including Nishmat and GPATS.

At the same time, JOFA continues to be disappointed by the RCA's insistence that only men may assume positions of "rabbinic status," which as far as we can tell, amounts to nothing more than an obsession with titles. JOFA also continues to wonder which part of our mesorah the RCA believes dictates that women Torah educators, scholars, and leaders be given less respect for performing precisely the same work as their male counterparts.

JOFA is puzzled by the RCA's purported directive to its membership regarding how best to support and recognize women's learning and leadership, but we are confident that these directives will have no meaningful effect on the growing numbers of rabbis who are opting to ensure that outstanding women Torah leaders are given the opportunities and respect they deserve.

Most of all, we are disappointed that America's largest association of Orthodox rabbis spends its time developing redundant statements (see 2010 Statement, 2013 Statement) absent of halakhic grounding, rather than addressing Orthodoxy's real challenges -- and particularly, the development of a systemic halakhic solution to resolve the agunah crisis.

JOFA supports the ordination of women as Orthodox spiritual and halakhic leaders.  We encourage Orthodox communities to hire such women to serve in their congregations in rabbinic roles. We believe individual communities and all of Klal Yisrael  can only benefit from the inclusion of the voice and ideas of highly trained and committed women in positions of communal authority.


JOFA Statement in Support of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin


The Chief Rabbinate's threat to deny renewal of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's tenure is an affront to the Jewish people. Rabbi Riskin is an eminent and highly esteemed leader who is the beloved Chief Rabbi of Efrat.

Rabbi Riskin has been a model for community rabbis, working tirelessly for the people of Efrat and for C'lal Yisrael. His vision for an inclusive community as a leader who is sensitive to the needs of many has earned him respect and influence in Israel and the Diaspora. 

JOFA calls on the Chief Rabbinate to renew Rabbi Riskin’s appointment for an additional five years, and to honor the wishes of the community of Efrat who have clearly voiced their continued and unwavering support for Rabbi Riskin to remain as their rabbi.

JOFA Statement on the Contraceptive Mandate in the Affordable Healthcare Act


Recently, there has been a great deal of debate over the positions of Jewish organizations on two cases currently before the Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius. These cases pit the government's efforts to protect women's reproductive freedom against religious business-owners’ rights to conduct their businesses in accordance with their religious beliefs. Some Jewish organizations, including the AJC and ADL have come out in support of the government's positions while predominantly Orthodox organizations have filed briefs in support of the religious business owners. As an Orthodox and Feminist institution, JOFA is deeply sympathetic to both sides of this case.

JOFA cannot take a position on the narrow legal issue the OU brief addresses, of what the protection of religious freedom should include for profit-seeking corporations. But we reject the OU's more aggressive public statement urging the Court to rule in favor of the business owners. JOFA believes that ensuring contraceptive coverage for American women is a compelling government interest and that the extensive exemptions currently on the books reflect the administration's best efforts to be as accommodating of religious beliefs as possible. More worrisome to us, at JOFA, is that the predominant Orthodox position reflects a cavalier lack of concern for women's rights and health. So while JOFA remains sympathetic to genuine religious concerns, we oppose trampling on women’s health and rights in the process.


JOFA Statement on the Current Stand of the Rabbanut and Rabbi Avi Weiss


The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) stands behind Rabbi Avi Weiss and other Orthodox rabbis in America whose halachic authority and testimony on matters of personal status have been challenged by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. We are further disheartened by the process by which this rejection was carried out, a trial by whispering and innuendo from “unnamed sources.” No legal system ought to tolerate anonymous slander. Morality and justice demand that the accusers come forward to allow open scrutiny of actions and accusations that have intensified this breach.

JOFA speaks as an American, Orthodox, feminist organization. We are staunch supporters of Israel. We treasure the halacha that governs our lives, and we respect the chain of tradition. Regrettably, the actions by the Rabbanut attempt to divide Diaspora Jewry from rabbinic leadership in Israel, weakening all of us in the process. We believe that such behavior is neither in the true spirit of Orthodox Judaism nor tolerable to any fair-minded or honest individual.

Letter to MK Naftali Bennett (PDF)
Letter to Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan (PDF)

JOFA Welcomes Collaboration with the RCA on Implementing Solutions for the Agunah Problem


JOFA welcomes collaboration with the RCA and other Orthodox rabbinic leadership on advancing immediate and systemic halachic solutions to the suffering of agunot. As an organization deeply committed to halakha, JOFA has worked tirelessly on finding halakhic solutions to the incessant suffering of women, and is eager for serious engagement with the RCA on this issue.  At the Agunah Summit earlier this week, rabbis and scholars  -- including many RCA rabbis -- gathered to explore a number of proposed halachic systemic solutions which have been used historically within normative Judaism. JOFA, along with engaged rabbis, scholars and activists, continue to strongly urge a revisiting of those solutions despite their limited current usage.  Over 100 rabbis, including many from the RCA, were invited to participate in these conversations, and we are very pleased that many did. Proceedings from the Summit, along with 75 scholarly articles on the subject, will be made available to the public soon.  Contact JOFA at [email protected] for more information.

JOFA's position on Sharansky's Women of the Wall Proposal

JOFA recognizes the reality that Jews have many different approaches to prayer. The solution proposed by Natan Sharansky allows for this reality in a way that respects the rights and dignity of both the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox by providing them access to Judaism’s holiest site. We support his effort to affirm the unity of the Jewish people.

JOFA's position on Rabba and Maharat


JOFA is unequivocally dedicated to advancing women's leadership in the Orthodox community in all spiritual, communal, professional, lay and clerical positions within the boundaries of halakha. Women should be granted titles commensurate with their training, fully supported by their communities, and given authority, status and compensation equal to their male colleagues.  We celebrate the achievements of women studying at the highest levels of Torah and working towards rabbinical roles such as Maharat and Rabba throughout the Orthodox community. We hope and pray for continued success and advancement in this arena.

JOFA's Response to Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan's Attack of Women's Groups and Denial of Agunot


We at JOFA are deeply disappointed by the recent comments of Israeli Knesset candidate Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, former head of the Jerusalem rabbinical court, who claims that there is no real problem of agunot, but merely a problem caused by "women's groups" that are trying to unfairly besmirch the Rabbinical Court with supposedly fabricated claims of gett refusal. These statements may serve Rabbi Dahan well in his bid for a Knesset seat, but they reflect a short-sighted and misogynistic view of women's real lives.

If only the stories of agunot were a figment of our imaginations... Unfortunately, the Jewish/Israeli divorce system remains inherently biased against women, who are by definition subject to male volition to freely exit marriage. Estimates of how many women remain chained in unwanted marriages in Israel range from far greater numbers than the low figures given by Rabbi Dahan. The statistics are foggy largely because of lack of organizational transparency in the rabbinical courts. Meanwhile, Rabbi Dahan's claim that more men suffer under the system than women -- and that the "real" problem is that women lie to manipulate the system – is a highly dishonorable attempt to cover the painful truth about gender and Jewish divorce. Men have options that women do not: Women's lives may be put on hold while men's are not. Where a wife is recalcitrant: the "heter 100 rabbanim" gives the husband an out. Even without the heter, some husbands date and remarry without benefit of a gett having terminated the current marriage. And when it is the husband who recalcitrant, there is no such relief for a wife. As an agunah, she can be dragged through the rabbinic courts for years in search of a gett. And the slightest transgressions by such a woman in creating a new social relationship and moving on with her life can result in the most serious negative consequences, including barred relationships and children excluded from the Jewish people as mamzerim. The rabbinic court system also favors male power and male ownership in divorce matters of custody and division of assets.

Rather than placing blame on women's groups -- which have worked tirelessly for decades in the spirit of Torah to alleviate human suffering and enable women to choose whom they want to be married to -- Rabbi Dahan would be better served by examining his court’s record and its complicity in the anguish of, many women who have walked with fear through its doors.

JOFA's Response to the Current Situation in Israel


JOFA is deeply concerned about the current round of attacks on Israel. JOFA fully supports Israel and the right of the IDF to protect its citizens in whatever way it deems necessary. JOFA sends love and care to the people under attack by missiles and bombs, and continues to pray for a swift end to the violence.

JOFA Condemns the Arrest of Anat Hoffman


We at JOFA are appalled by the police brutality used in the arrest of Anat Hoffman last week at the Western Wall and the violent tactics used to intimidate women at prayer at the Kotel. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned about the limits placed on women’s freedom of religious expression in prayer at the Wall, a site that is holy to ALL Jews, women and men. Read about Women of the Wall in the Fall 2012 issue of the JOFA Journal.

Read an article in Haaretz written by JOFA's Executive Director Elana Sztokman.

On Abortion


Judaism has a compelling approach to abortion, one which respects the sanctity of life and the well-being of mothers. The JOFA online library is proud to offer a collection of resources exploring the halakhic approach to this important topic. Explore more about this topic in our online library.