Israel’s state religious establishment will only become more responsive to women’s needs and priorities with the active leadership of women. One prime element of this establishment is the 135 local religious councils, which serve as the central address in their communities for those wishing to marry or divorce; provide support to synagogues and mikvaot (ritual baths); and supervise burial arrangements and kashruth.
Small incremental progress has been made in raising the percentage of women on municipal religious councils. Last year, Israel’s Attorney General instructed the Ministry of Religious Services to implement affirmative action for appointing women to the councils. Yet there is a great distance between the spirit of this directive and the current situation.
In the past two years Shatil and ADVOT have succeeded in raising the percentage of women serving on councils from 5% to 17%, yet much work remains. Two training cycles, encompassing over 25 religious and traditional women from across Israel, began in 2014 and are continuing throughout 2016.
Topics covered include the nature of the authority of the religious councils; lobbying and forming political alliances; navigating local bureaucracy; social and traditional media work, etc. Feedback for the courses has been very positive, with many of the women stating that the course and the support and training it provided was essential for allowing them to be serve as effective members on the religious councils.