On Sunday, November 16, 2014 at 8:00 p.m., Congregation Rinat Yisrael’s Adult Education Program will host Dr. Rabbanit Michal Tikochinsky. Tikochinsky is the director of Beit Morasha’s Moshe Green Beit Midrash for Women’s Leadership in Jerusalem. As one of the leading women Talmud scholars and educators in the world today, Tikochinsky is a sought after lecturer in Talmud, Jewish law and women’s issues. Through her scholarly and incisive articles, Tikochinsky has had a profound influence on the halachic discourse regarding women’s issues and established an umbrella organization for women Torah scholars in educational leadership positions.
Tikochinsky’s lecture will address the question of the halachic status of the necessity of the presence of three judges for the ritual immersion of female conversion candidates. “This topic has preoccupied me for many years, and I wrote an article about it more than seven years ago. I wanted to find out if and to what extent this is obligatory from a halachic standpoint,” she said. “My research brought forth testimonies of the exploitation of religious judges. The article, however did not engage in these cases because my view was that the main thing was that the status quo was problematic–even if all the judges were righteous. In my lecture, I intend to demonstrate from a halachic standpoint that there is no need for judges in women’s ritual immersion. I will expand on what took place since I published my article and discuss a bit about whether the desired change can occur,” she added.
In light of recent events, (the Rabbi Barry Freundel scandal) Tikochinsky believes the discourse on Rabbinical Courts and female conversion has been changing. “Firstly, this incident pains me deeply. This is an appalling and grave incident. I’d like to think that it isn’t necessary to wait for extreme cases such as this for things to change. Now more than ever, we have to listen to the voices...there is a fundamental failure here which requires immediate repair,” she mentioned.
When asked how she thinks the rabbinate can change to better accommodate the needs of the community and how that will happen, Dr. Tikochinsky said, “Rabbis have to go through the proper training beyond the knowledge of halacha. They have to pass courses in sociology, psychology and possibly pass a series of tests and evaluations. This requirement is not new to me. I know that in the past there were great rabbis who knew how to listen and respected others. Despite erroneous belief, halachic ruling is not debated in the upper worlds nor taught by angels. Rulings should be influenced by halachic knowledge, but also an understanding of reality. There is a dialogue between the sources and the real world. The formalization of the ordination certification exams, makes the academic profession of the rabbinate something that has disrupted these fundamental insights,” she added.
Tikochinsky believes Beit Morasha has had a profound influence on the Dati Leumi world. “The uniqueness of this community is its ability to find a balance between the worlds of Torah and the outside. Creating a response that contains the richness of ideas from both places. However, finding this balance and weaving the delicate relationship between the internal system of the Torah and the system of outside ideas has always been a difficult task,” she mentioned. “We study Talmud page by page, and the words of Chazal, to find the right approach for our times. Another branch of our study deals with general and Jewish philosophy, mainly theological issues that concern our generation,” she added.
Tikochinsky’s academic studies inform her traditional Talmud studies. “As I understand it, all the tools I can bring with me into Torah study can only make me closer to God,” she said. Tikochinsky added, “This program has created a huge change in every class of women studying Torah. I hope the community of women studying expands much more and will create the right balance of relations between men and women in the halachic world.”
By Rivka Hia