Sisterhood Blog

Female Rabbi Joins the Ultimate Men's Club

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

It took a while, but Rabbi Alona Lisitsa has finally taken her rightful seat on Mevasseret Zion’s religious council. Lisitsa, a 41-year-old, Kiev-born Reform rabbi, was named to the council three years ago, but the Religious Affairs Ministry delayed approving her appointment until Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered it to do so.

courtesy of alona lisitsa
Alona Lisitsa

Israeli’s 170 religious councils supervise kashrut, and oversee marriage registration, burials, synagogues and mikvehs throughout the country.

In a recent Skype conversation with The Sisterhood from her home in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret, Lisitsa explained that as far back as the 1990s, non-Orthodox individuals had been appointed to religious councils. However, they were never endorsed (by the Orthodox-controlled Religious Affairs Ministry) in time to actually take their places before the next municipal elections came around. “It was a political game they were playing,” Lisitsa said.

According to Rabbi Maya Leibovich, the rabbi of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion, the town’s Reform congregation and the first Israeli-born woman to be ordained, Lisitsa is the first female rabbi to successfully join a religious council, but not the first Reform Jew to do so. Lisitsa is also not the first woman to serve on a religious council. That precedent was set by Leah Shakdiel in 1988, when she joined the Yerucham religious council after a landmark Supreme Court decision in her favor.

Lisitsa said that prior to her appointment, the male chairperson of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion (where Lisitsa is a board member), had been elected to the religious council. He was effectively ostracized by the Orthodox members, as the council chairperson would call meetings — and then when the Reform member would show up, he would find no one else there.

So when Lisitsa was nominated to the council, she reached out for help from supportive municipal council members and the Israel Religious Action Center. IRAC lawyers went to court to demand transparency. The court ordered the Religious Affairs Ministry give a clear definition as to who is qualified to serve on local religious councils. Lisitsa met all the necessary criteria on its long list. In March the court ordered the ministry to approve her.

Despite the fact that Lisitsa — a Reform Jew, a woman, and a female rabbi — represents a triple-whammy for the Orthodox members of the Mevasseret religious council, she said that the first meeting went well. The Times of Israel reported: “Lisitsa told Army Radio that the members all introduced themselves to her, and that she had a ‘long conversation’ with one of the representatives of the haredi Orthodox Shas party.” She went on to say, “I came with much optimism and hope, and indeed I found a different Mevasseret community. We talked about the need for cooperation and the need to ignore internal differences for the residents. This is a triumph for Israeli democracy.”

“I think the cordiality with which Alona was met is also a very refreshing moment. It remains to be seen if this is for the purpose of passing a budget or will continue. I hope for the latter,” Leibovich said.

Although she contended, “I’m not a fighter,” she did say she was going to work to oppose a Shas-backed proposal to appoint a chief rabbi for the town. “Our budget is too small for that, and with each local congregation having its own rabbi, we have enough rabbis in town,” Lisitsa, who works at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Talmud at Tel Aviv University, told The Sisterhood.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Religious Councils, Maya Leibovich, Religious Affairs Ministry, Kehilat Meveasseret Zion, Israel, Alona Lisitsa

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.