Yoatzot: An Exchange

Shoshanna Jaskoll submitted a characteristically passionate article for consideration, this time on the hot-button issue of yoatzot halacha, women trained in hilchos nidah who serve as information intake points, advisors, and more in a very sensitive area. We thought that the article (coauthored by three colleagues) would make an excellent springboard for discussion.

Because their roles are far more circumscribed than the rabbahs/ maharats etc (whose legitimacy has now been rejected by a numerical supermajority of the Orthodox world, including both the haredi and mainsteam Modern Orthodox camps), yoatzot have met with far less hostility. The recent historic[1] RCA resolution rejecting female clergy deliberately did not draw a bead on yoatzot, although it did not vote approval either. Many of those who voted their disapproval of rabbahs (really, their spurning of Open Orthodoxy) would never have voted against yoatzot. Yet their were others who refused to vote for the resolution because they had expected it to distance the community from yoatzot as well!

There is little question that the issues surrounding yoatzot are more nuanced and complex than those driving the rabbah question. We are going to present the piece submitted to us by Ms. Jaskoll et al which makes a powerful case for their acceptance, and will help people understand that whatever they conclude,yoatzot should not be summarily dismissed as rabbahs by different names. We will follow the piece with some counter-arguments and hesitations. They are not meant as a rebuttal, but simply a laying bare of some of the disquiet expressed by some with a different perspective. I relied on several sources for these bullet points; they are not all of my manufacture. To the likely chagrin of some of my friends, I have to say that this man’s inner jury is still out on the question.

Commitment, Engagement and Responsibility: The Role of Yoatzot Halacha

In response to backlash against the RCA’s announcement that disqualifies women from serving as official clergy in synagogues or other Jewish institutions, Rabbi Avraham Gordimer emphasized a point. He wrote:

“The drafters purposefully did not want to convey an opinion about the propriety of Yoatzot programs and the like, as the RCA has no position on the matter, and many RCA members, this writer included, are not in favor of such programs. This is a critical point of clarification that must be made and publicized.”

We feel compelled to state: It is simply incomprehensible that there are still those in the Orthodox Jewish world who are opposed to Yoatzot Halacha. For more than 15 years, learned, frum, God-fearing women have provided a much-needed alternative for women observant of taharat hamishpacha, who until now had no choice but to bring their intimate apparel and intensely personal questions to men for examination.

For an indication of the kind of difference that these women have made, and to illustrate just what Rabbi Gordimer ‘is not in favor of’, here are just a few testimonies of women’s experiences.

“I had to call the rabbi after my wedding night to determine if I was actually in niddah or not, which required me to tell the rabbi what we did, how we did it and how it made my body feel.”

“I had just delivered at 21 weeks, and I was desperate to be out of niddah, desperate for comfort and to move on. I needed to get to my rav before sunset so I wound up on a highway with him holding my underwear up to the sun to get an answer.”

“I was due Yom Kippur, was already in early labor erev Yom Kippur and needed to know what I was allowed to do for personal hygiene on Yom Kippur as a yoledet. The rav didn’t quite understand, I needed to explain… I really needed to speak to a woman about this. It was so awkward.”

“I once called to ask a simple question and the rabbi asked for my name to which I questioned why my name was at all important in relation to the question….He said he would not answer without knowing who I was. I told him that if he doesn’t just answer the halachic question I would not ever come to any rabbi to ask again. He continued to refuse so I hung up.”

“I never asked niddah questions before yoatzot. I just considered myself a niddah every time. We are taught to be so modest, and then expected to discuss private details with a man? I couldn’t do it.”

Yoatzot provide a vital service to women who voluntarily, out of ahavat and yirat shamayim, expose the most personal aspects of their lives for inspection and regulation. Thousands of women repress the very modesty that has been ingrained in them from the time they were girls in order to air the most intimate details of their bodies, cycles and sexuality for the sake of heaven.

There is no doubt that the availability of knowledgeable women to turn to encourages women to grow in observance of mitzvot, attain a greater understanding of halacha, and deepen their appreciation of Torah.

Women who shied away from asking questions too embarrassing or difficult to explain to men are willing and able to approach knowledgeable women who understand.

Women who were inappropriately strict because they did not want to ask intimate questions can now resume marital life with their husbands with confidence.

Women who suffered from “halachic infertility,” where the very observance of halacha impeded conception, as well as women who felt alienated and frustrated bytaharat Hamishpacha, even to the point of giving it up entirely, now have an address for halachic assistance and comfort.

How can this be a bad thing?

The yoetzet hotline for halachic questions fields between 30 and 40 questions each night, not including calls made directly to independent or community yoatzot. Approximately 16,000 questions have been catalogued on Nishmat’s website, which gets an average of 300 hits per day. Indeed, it is likely the largest repository of halachic responsa on taharat hamishpacha in the world.

When the Nishmat hotline started logging calls, the most surprising detail to the Rabbi in charge was the length of the phone calls. In the Rabbi’s vast experience of answering niddah questions, the average length of a conversation was between 1 and 2 minutes and it was always over as soon as possible. The average yoetzet call was 15 minutes. The quality of the answer was on a totally different level. 

Dr. Deena Zimmerman, Yoetzet Halacha and Director of www.yoatzot.org, as well as Medical Supervisor of Nishmat’s Women’s Halachic Research Institute, expounded on the significance of the program.

Firstly, the need for yoatzot is apparent. To illustrate: in one particular community, the rabbi had been hearing 5-6 questions on taharat hamishpacha over the course of a month; when a yoetzet joined that same community, she received 5-6 taharat hamishpacha questions per DAY. The number of questions skyrocketed when the voice on the other end of the line belonged to a yoetzet.

An unintended but sorely needed outcome of the advent of Yoatzot is the emergence of healthy dialogue regarding sexuality within the frum community. From women’s health to the halachot of birth control, a staggering ignorance of vital issues leaves women disempowered and dangerously uninformed. So many women, based on previous partial information, assume that birth control is always assur or that every drop of blood renders one a niddah, regardless of circumstances. This leads to inappropriate stringency, immense frustration and being dangerously overtaxed to the detriment of the entire family.

A story to illustrate how this occurs: One woman gave birth to a 26-week-old baby and assumed that it was assur for her to use birth control post-partum. She didn’t even ask. It was by chance that she spoke with Dr. Zimmerman, who helped her better articulate her circumstances so that she could speak to her rav with greater accuracy. With a newfound understanding of which details were halachically significant, she was able to convey the relevant information to her rav. She received the heter and was able to focus on and care for her premature infant.

The laws and requirements of taharat hamishpacha can be very difficult, intensely stressful and induce great self-doubt in the women who uphold it. It is helpful, therefore, that, as women, Yoatzot provide an understanding ear and know the right questions to ask in order to determine ways to alleviate some of the difficulty.Many inquiries to the hotline and website begin: “I hate this mitzvah. It is ruining my marriage and my sanity. I cannot get clean. I cannot take this anymore.” Yoatzot patiently work through these issues with the women, discussing the specifics and details– often very intimate details that the women were unable to share with their rabbis or even their own husbands.

The yoatzot, who have devoted two years (logging in over 1000 hours of intensive study) to train under rabbinic authorities in taharat hamishpacha, help couples navigate the complexities of each case within a halachic framework. Thousands of relieved couples have benefited from the invaluable service they provide. Instituting yoatzot as part of a shul or community strengthens the community, Judaism, family and taharat hamishpacha.

Given the yoatzots’ specialization in Hilchot Niddah and the practical applications of these halachot, they are much better equipped to deal with these specific issues than the average rabbi. They have passed rigorous exams on the topic of shimush and niddah. These scholars have been chosen for their extensive Torah knowledge, leadership ability, and deep religious commitment to serve as a resource for women who are more comfortable discussing very personal issues with another woman.

The service provided by yoatzot, each of whom has received extensive training from experts in modern medicine and psychology (including gynecology, infertility, women’s health, family dynamics, and sexuality), is a profound contribution to contemporary Jewish life. These women educate and guide, advising us through the dynamic of taharat Hamishpacha. They field thousands of inquiries that may very well have gone unasked, they consult on a woman’s behalf with rabbinic authorities on particularly sensitive matters, and they provide an unparalleled understanding of matters that are uniquely shared among women.

To say that yoatzot are anything but a tremendous addition to Jewish life is to ignore the profound social, halachic, and educational contributions that yoatzot have already proven in the frum community. It also suggests reverting back to a time when Torah observant women’s needs were simply not sufficiently met.

How many women avoid going to their rabbi with questions because of the deep shame they feel discussing intimate details with a man? How many women do go out of a sense of religious duty, but still suffer from the embarrassment and unable to give complete details do not get the proper respomnse? How many women assume birth control is forbidden, regardless of circumstance? How many believe that any colored discharge renders one a niddah? How many faithfully cling to every stringency as instructed to them by their kalla teachers, though their bodies have changed or circumstances are different?

Opposition to yoatzot halacha begs the question: Exactly what are you saying to Jewish women when you angle to remove the very thing that meets their deep needs and enables so many to keep one of the most sacred and pivotal mitzvot?

Moreover, if you do away with yoatzot, what substitute will you provide that will accomplish all that they do for women, the community , and the observance oftaharat hamishpacha in their stead?

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll lives in Ramat Bet Shemesh with her family and writes extensively on women and Judaism and other contemporary issues. She works with dozens of nonprofits and businesses to help them craft their messages and works overall for the betterment of society.

Tamar Weissman is an author and lecturer on Tanach and Halacha at the Midrasha in Bar Ilan and Bet Midrash Emunah

Rachel Stomel is passionate about social justice in the Jewish community, with a special focus on women’s rights and issues of religion and state in Israel. She utilizes social media and organizes events to engage the community in support of causes dear to her.

Anne Gordon has spent many years learning and teaching Torah in the women’s institutions of learning of Jerusalem and New York. She is currently the Deputy Ops & Blogs editor at the Times of Israel, and is working on a very slow doctorate in Jewish education.

Here are some of the arguments provided by those with lesser enthusiasm for yoatzot:

It may very well be true that yoatzot have provided a great service to women who were uncomfortable bringing nidah issues to male rabbis. But they have unconsciously performed a disservice at the same time. Many areas of halacha require local knowledge of the personal circumstances of the one asking the question. A local rav, aware of such circumstances, can use flexibility where available because he knows the woman and her family. A yoetzet, often serving an area far from where she lives, cannot. (I know of at least one important area in which the yoetzet lives in another city.) The personal dimension that is often important in psak has become a victim to the innovation of yoatzot.

Many women report that they are uncomfortable asking questions about such private matters to men, and have no hesitations coming to yoatzot. This contention, if true, might make the enterprise worthwhile, trumping all other considerations. That is why many people who might otherwise oppose yoatzot won’t do so. But the cure of yoatzot may be short-sighted, for two reasons. First, while tzniyus is a wonderful midah, there are times that it’s expression will change. Rav Moshe zt”l and others, asked whether frum women should seek out female OB/Gyn’s used to anwer, “Go to the best physician.” It must surely be uncomfortable for women to do so. Yet they understand that there is a time and place for everything. We try to convey to our students that bodies are not things to be ashamed of, even if we shun gratuitously displaying them. We teach sugyos in the gemara dealing with all kinds of intimate details. We do this not just because if it has the gemara’s imprimatur. Rather, we do this because it is part of proper chinuch that things that are cheapened by pedestrian exposure are elevated when they become part of Torah. Conversation that is ordinarily nivul peh becomes holy Torah in the proper context. High school girls occasionally hear some topic that would ordinarily never be discussed nonetheless mentioned by a male halacha teacher. They can see him avert his eyes, and use every circumlocution in the book, but nonetheless address the issue because it, too, is Torah. Through this, they learn about the fine art of euphemism – but also absorb that, bottom line, the Torah addresses all aspects of life. If there are women who find it so completely demeaning to discuss intimate issues with a male rav, perhaps the solution ought to be better chinuch. We perhaps need women who can reassure other women that asking a shaylah of a rav should not be seen as a violation of her sense of tzniyus.

Additionally, there is an argument in favor of preserving the old system of asking questions of rabbonim who have specific training in hilchos nidah, even if we reject the previous argument as bearing the imprint of Pollyanna. Again, all things being equal, traditional protocols call for going to a local talmid chacham. (If that talmid chacham is not quite what he ought to be in halachic expertise, he ought at least be someone with enough background to both recognize a good question, and have access to someone greater than himself.) If despite the argument of the previous paragraph, women decide that they cannot overcome their personal discomfort, the solution still may not be yoatzot. When I learned in kollel, the mashgiach had a particularly strong background in ma’aros. Scores of young couples asked lots of questions. Never did a woman, to the best of my knowledge, ever have to face the mashgiach. Her husband brought the question! Many decades ago, rabbonim got into the habit of leaving drop-boxes in front of their houses, where ma’aros could be left discretely, with the shoel(es) identified only by a number. (I heard that it was Rabbi Dr Moshe Tendler, shlit”a, who first worked out such a system in Monsey.) If the rav wanted more information, he could use a call-back number, but preserving the woman’s anonymity – and modesty. While the authors cite some terrible stories of rabbinic overstep of propriety, the solution may be fixing the problems, rather than coming up with a different mousetrap.

The authors speak of women who would rather be machmir than ask a question of a male rav, thus impacting on their child-bearing potential. This is an extremely important consideration, but it cuts both ways. While the yoatzot seem to be very well trained, their background cannot be the equivalent of a talmid chacham who has spent many years learning. I don’t know what texts they use. I do know that there are places in which rabbis are trained in Yoreh Deah by lectures on appropriate simanim. I would never go to such a rav for a question in kashrus. If the rav hasn’t waded through lots of Yad Yehudah (as only one example), I would not go to him. (Too many rabbis from certain places never heard of Yad Yehudah, and could never manage to elucidate a single paragraph. In some places, they have had enough exposure to learning to know what they don’t know, and realize that the phone needs to fill in for the lacunae in their learning. But others completely lack even that sophistication.)

I remember Rav Moshe. I know of children who would not, could not have come into this world without Rav Moshe’s extraordinary grasp of halachah, and what he paskened based upon it. He was able to be meikal because he knew everything, and knew it from the inside. We no longer have Rav Moshe, but we have people who can still do much more than those who have memorized lists of accepted decisions in different circumstances.

While some yoatzot realize that they should check with people who have learned much longer than they have, this is not always the case. A yoetzet course of study cannot hold a candle to years (or more!) of immersion in serious learning. A woman can be taught a huge amount of fixed halachah in hilchos nidah, just as a man can master acharonim on hilchos berachos, but not understand the sugya. I’m sure that yoatzot have dealt with the concept to sefeik sefaikah – which figures importantly in so many real-life situations in various arenas of halacha. But I would not want to entrust any halachic issue to someone who hasn’t plowed through Yoreh Deah siman 110, and thereby made sefeik sefaikah a good friend, rather than a casual acquaintance. Nor would I ever entrust a nidah question to someone who could not independently explicate a Chavos Daas, or a Sidrei Taharah, on his or her own power.[2]

Summarizing so far, yoatzot may address a need, but they may not be the best way to address the need. There will be some gain, but there will be some loss as well.

People have voiced other objections. While some yoatzot are impressive for their dedication and yiras shomayim, others are less so. In a community charged with tension about women’s issues, anyone who shows some overreach produces push-back against her colleagues. There is more than a bit of suspicion, based on what some have said and written, that the aspiration of the yoatzot project does not stop at hilchos nidah, but is a slow-growth (and therefore more responsible) method of moving to egalitarianism.

Suspicions about these motives are fueled by men, at times. A recent article, for example, celebrated the ordination of women clergy by some in Israel. The graduates of one five-year program, he tells us, are “equal in knowledge and skill to their male rabbinical counterparts.” Those male counterparts spent years – in some cases many years – in learning day and night, three sedorim a day. But the yoatzot are “equal in skill?” Along the way, the author described the function of yoatzot: “The graduates of that program pass tests and receive the title yoatzot halachah, thus certifying that a questioner could rely on the ruling of that yoetzet.” Ruling? We had previously been told that yoatzot wouldn’t rule – that they might answer questions about cut-and-dried situations (which are not rulings at all, just conveying information), or take the more complicated questions to a talmid chacham equipped to discern and decide between competing halachic arguments. If the author is correct, opposition to yoatzot will grow.

Some who could not themselves formulate an opinion looked to those greater than themselves. They pointed to important people who have grave reservations about yoatzot, including at least four roshei yeshiva at YU. The reservations of recognized talmidei chachamim remains an obstacle in the path of wider acceptance of yoatzot. Some are looking for more than simply a lack of opposition. Employing yoatzot represents a change in the way we have done halacha for centuries. That does not invalidate the notion in the slightest. But it does call for following the protocol that Klal Yisrael has always used – namely, seeking the imprimatur of gedolei ha-dor, the small cadre of preeminent talmidei chachamim of the generation. There are some fine people who back the idea of yoatzot, but none of them are recognized as belonging to the upper echelon of gedolim. We ought not, the argument goes, change fundamental structures and roles in Judaism, including the issue of who handles various halachic matters, without the full support of gedolei Torah. The Dati-Le’umi community which spawned the project followed the protocol, in securing the blessing of Rav Nachum Rabinowitz, shlit’a. He, I am told, occupies such a position within that community. But for yoatzot to be accepted elsewhere, including the Sephardic, American Modern Orthodox, and haredi communities, support from a wider group of Torah luminaries may be necessary.

[1] Media treatment of the vote and the unfortunate statements of some individuals clouded public understanding of the importance of the vote. RCA resolutions have met for a while with less than rapt attention from the members, drawing around 200 votes, total. This resolution drew 500. And while all the “yes” votes can be assumed to be a rejection of the depredations to mesorah crafted by OO, not all the “no” votes signified acceptance or even tolerance for female clergy. A group that did some follow-up on the vote found that some of those who voted against the resolution did so because they felt that it did not go far enough in distancing Torah Judaism from OO! The displeasure of MO rabbis with rabbahs was, in fact, greater than the small margin leaked/reported in popular media.

[2] Moving away from yoatzot for a moment, learning halacha through a serious of courses rather than depth learnings one of the most serious problems with semichah for women. Such “ordination” as we have seen it represents the complete cheapening of serious learning. Substituting drips and drabs of rabbinic jargon learned in a sub-standard program – which indeed is just as objectionable for the men coming out of the associated institutions – for real facility with Torah content and tools is highly problematic.

You may also like...

48 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    I”m not sure if it will make a difference to the author, but yoatzot do study Chavot Da’at and Sidrei Taharah, and spend many more hours studying the sugyot through Gemarot, Rishonim, Achronim, and modern day poskim than do their counterparts in current male semicha programs. I wonder if anyone suggests women should not call those rabbis with their nidda questions either.

  2. YbhM says:

    >To illustrate: in one particular community, the rabbi had been hearing 5-6 questions on taharat hamishpacha over the course of a month; when a yoetzet joined that
    >same community, she received 5-6 taharat hamishpacha questions per DAY.

    If this statistic is roughly accurate it would seem to be a very strong indication in favor of yoatzot ie. yoatzot contribute to improved observance of the mitzvah of taharat hamishpaha, improved shalom bayit, and also improved “quality-of-life”.

    The question is whether in the slippery slope can be avoided – given today’s shallow but dogmatically feminist zeitgeist. People have a hard time distinguishing between “yiutz” and “psak” – just like they have a hard distinguishing between psak and database-reliant halakhic research.

  3. Rafi Miller says:

    “In the Rabbi’s vast experience of answering niddah questions, the average length of a conversation was between 1 and 2 minutes and it was always over as soon as possible. The average yoetzet call was 15 minutes. The quality of the answer was on a totally different level.”

    “In one particular community, the rabbi had been hearing 5-6 questions on taharat hamishpacha over the course of a month; when a yoetzet joined that same community, she received 5-6 taharat hamishpacha questions per DAY. “

    For me, those figures overwhelm all the other arguments for or against the Yoatzot program.

    Disclaimer: My wife is currently studying to be a yoetzet. For every siman, they learn (independently) Gemara, Rishonim, Tur, Beis Yosef, Shulchan Aruch, Achronim, and modern Poskim. I recently helped her review the first two simanim, and not to brag, but she knows them cold.

  4. steve b. says:

    As a married man of 20 years, I have been trying to figure out the scenerio that would require a yoetzet. My wife has never brought a shayla to the Rav. It is always me. Even during the wedding night emergency that required us to race after the mesader kedushin, the Rav never saw her face. The only scenerios I can come up with is an orphaned girl before her wedding and a divorcee/widowed woman before her remarriage. And a woman who doesn’t trust her husband.

    We can be “dan lkav zchut” the Rav who insisted on a lack of anonymity. In the MO neighborhood I used to live in, the Rav discovered a group of unmarried women who were using the mikva. He had to choose between turning a blind eye, or taking a stand. He took a stand.

    The way I see it, both are right.
    Rav Dessler talks about the difference between the view of Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel in the order of lighting the chanukah candles. Bais Shamai feels that the average person doesn’t use a yom tov properly and therefore is most excited at the beginning and fades out at the end, he reflects this reality by starting bright and descending to a small flame. On the other hand, Bais Hillel models his halacha after the ideal tzadik who internalizes more and more of the yom tov each and every day, shining most brightly at the end. We paskin like bais HIllel and the obvious lesson is to always strive after the ideal.
    Is the Yoetzet the ideal? or a bedieved that is necessary to maintain a certain group frum?
    The author would have us believe its the ideal since it fills “the deep needs of these women” and there is no “alternative being offered”. But then why is the yoetzet a new thing that was never a requirement to fulfill womens needs throughout the generations? It also seems that the alternative seems to be clear, council women to send their husbands to a Rav!
    My wife has never needed a support group for hilchos niddah. Sure, every time I am being handled a bundle to take to the Rav, we have a laugh about how weird our religion can be be. But it’s not the system that’s broken, it’s our attitude toward the system. So lets educate these women and instill in them the proper hashkofos, and wean them away from a non-ideal yoetzet program. Lets strive for the ideal. To embrace the yoetzet program as ideal begs the question, is it authentic Judaism or feminism?

    • SA says:

      I guess you guys don’t travel much. There have been shailas that I had to ask myself, either because my husband was abroad at the relevant time, or I was. A rather plausible scenario nowadays.
      Just saying.

    • Shelley Schwarzbaum says:

      What about a husband in miluim (reserve duty) in the IDF? He is often unreachable, certainly unavailable to run to a Rav, and his wife might need a question answered so she will hopefully not be a nidda when he comes home after a month on the Syrian border.

      I’ve been married for a long time, and twice when I called rabbis (on 2 different continents) to ask a question, the rebbitzen answered the phone, said “maybe i can help”, heard my question, and went on to answer it without so much as offering to put me through to their husband. One answer, i later found out, was simply wrong. So, what is better for the system (and for the observance of halacha), a trained Yoetzet who knows her limits, or a clueless Rebbetzen who doesn’t?

  5. joel rich says:

    So in summary we have a classic case where there are two approaches which are within the bounds of possible halachic interpretation and there are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. My read of halachic history is now begins (or has already begun) a delicate dance (without a undisputed algorithm to follow) between the Rabbinic leadership and the laity (one might say the same thing about OO). It will be interesting to look back in 50 years and see how it was “so obvious” what the result would be (as it was about chassidut and conservative Judaism )

  6. Yehoshua says:

    The solution to your first point, that a local yoetzet is not always available, is is simple – more yoatzot.

    The third objection, that women (or men) who are too embarrassed to ask a direct question can use an anonymous drop-box, is somewhat dissonant with the first objection.

    A larger point: the idea that in a communities served by yoatzot, serious questions will not be referred to expert rabbanim is simply incorrect. In the course of my married life, some questions have gone to a yoetzet, and others to a rav. Occasionally, the yoetzet would refer a question to a rav.

    Just as not every question in the kitchen needs an answer from a godol, the same is true for taharat hamishpacha. Community rabbanim know which questions are which. So do yoatzot, and so do committed and informed balabatim.

    Also, your impression of the level of expertise of yoatzot is, I think, misinformed and condescending. “have heard of the concept to sefeik sefaikah” – indeed! If you have not had the opportunity to “talk in learning” with a yoetzet, you should try it. (If you find that too embarrassing, you can send your wife :-))

  7. Rebbetzin says:

    I was a BIG fan of yoatzot until a few years ago. A young married woman contacted me from a different community where there are many talmidei chachamim as well as a yoetzet. She had asked a yoetzet a question on Thursday night, then again on Saturday night and was still waiting on Monday for an answer. The yoetzet had told her to refrain just in case and that she would talk to the Rav. The young woman called me filled with anxiety about the issue because she was now afraid how to proceed in the future. My husband is a rav and told her she was muttar the whole time and would never advocate “waiting” just in case as the yoetzet did as a policy.

    I was horrified. My husband will put everything aside to answer a hilchos nidda shaila, especially when it’s a question of whether a woman is muttar. Not responding within 12 hours is wrong. Waiting longer is inexcusable. If the woman had felt comfortable asking a shaila herself to the Rav, there would have been no wait time. Moreover, the question of waiting is a complex one that should be handled on a local basis not based on one psak coming from one school of thought.

    The problem is that the arguments for why the yoetzet are important buffer them from the normal give and take of psak that establishes normative halacha. Since they are women and “know” women and medicine – they know best. Therefore, you can’t argue with them. The psak they are taught is spread throughout the community without oversight of the local maare d’asrah. Rabbanim having learned in yeshiva have to establish the logic of their arguments in relation to many schools of thought. Yoatzot don’t need to do that and learn one approach which gets published on the website, taught through the yoatzot and disseminated world wide. .

    While this may have been a one-time episode, the procedure and power given to one school of thought that doesn’t participate in the normative halachic process has made me sour on having the women of the US rely on women trained in one way without the breadth of experience that rabbanim possess.

  8. Rachel Wizenfeld says:

    Regarding the bullet point of how men can bring the shailahs to a rav in order to spare their wives potential embarrassment, there are many couples (I know some) whose husbands are not overwhelmingly devoted to this aspect of Torah observance and leave it to their wives, who often don’t have a close relationship with a local rav, or may be baalei teshuva and severely uncomfortable talking to a rav about these issues. For these women I believe yoatzot provide an important service. However, anecdotally I have heard that yoatzot are often more strict than a rav would be in interpreting a situation; as you write only someone steeped in yeshiva learning has the wherewithal to be truly meikel. In my personal experience, having attended two talks by head yoatzot of two different communities, I was underwhelmed – one had a somewhat condescending view of the halachic process (even insinuating that R’ Moshe was “flip-floppy” in his responsa) and another was unable to respond to any of the emotional issues of niddah and mikvah that women in the talk brought up – a glaring lack of ability in my opinion. However I do think that yoatzot are critical for some modern orthodox and baal teshuva communities – hopefully the potential pitfalls can be deterred in some way.

    • Rebbetzin says:

      Glad to hear that I am not the only one who has had the experience of the yoatzot being more machmir than rabbanim and not necessarily being equipped to deal with the emotional and mental health issues regarding mikvah. I thought it was just me.

  9. Hillel says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein. Rav Nahum Rabinivitch, the Baal peshuta, has an explicit teshuvah in support of yoatzot. You shame yourself by not considering him a gadol batorah.

    [YA – There is some cultural difference at work here in the way the term “gadol baTorah” is used. Among MOST, but not all, of CC readers, the term is reserved for a very small group of the most outstanding talmidei chachamim and yir’ei shomayim of the generation – the cadre of gedolei hador. I used it in that sense. It is becoming apparent that many people use it differently. They use it to describe someone who is recognized for Torah excellence – a much, much larger group. I have changed the wording of the essay to make it clearer that I mean the former, rather than latter, definition. No slight was intended at those talmidei chachamim who support yoatzot, and who in fact are recognized for superlative Torah scholarship.]

    • Moshe G says:

      Rabbi Adlerstein, with all due respect, it seems that because you live in the Charedi velt you are simply unaware that Rav Nachum Rabinovitch Shlit’a is absolutely a Gadol Ba’Torah, even according to your very elite definition (“a very small group of the most outstanding talmidei chachamim and yir’ei shomayim of the generation”). RNR is probably the most revered Gadol and halachic authority currently in the Israeli Modern Orthodox world, now that R. Aharon Lichtenstein has passed away. He is every bit the equal in Torah knowledge to the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in America, such as R. Dovid Feinstein and R. Shmuel Kaminetsky, and he is similarly of comparable stature to the senior YU Roshei Yeshiva R. Schachter and R. Willig, I have heard Prof. Marc Shapiro make the point that RNR possesses comparable Torah knowledge to R. Steinman in Israel, and that the only reason Charedim are generally not aware of this is because RNR not of their circle. Note that I am not making these claims as a form of exaggeration or hyperbole, I mean it quite literally. Rabbi Adlerstein- I encourage you to look into this and make inquiries for yourself of people in Israel. I’m sure that there are people you respect who can confirm this. You should revise this article accordingly. Other than that one point, by the way, I happen to think yours was an excellent and cogent article!

      • Bob Miller says:

        For many decades, we’ve had two (at least two) competing Orthodox rabbinic establishments that occasionally work together to achieve common goals. Under the circumstances, it’s understandable why each should be somewhat unfamiliar with, or dismissive of, the highest spiritual levels achieved by the other.

      • dr. bill says:

        i agree. two things are probably more bothersome. First, those gedolim who bridge both worlds are often under-appreciated. (In the interest of not getting into assessments of individuals, i purposely omitted names.) Second, i recently was talking to a prominent chareidi RY who was finishing a sefer on classic work of a rishon. I asked him what he thought of a sefer on that topic by RAL ztl. That he didn’t know who RAL was troubled me less than he did not know of an important sefer on the topic.

      • Shmuel W says:

        R’ Nachum Rabinovitch is a talmid of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel

      • Moshe G says:

        “We ought not, the argument goes, change fundamental structures and roles in Judaism, including the issue of who handles various halachic matters, without the full support of gedolei Torah. The Dati-Le’umi community which spawned the project followed the protocol, in securing the blessing of Rav Nachum Rabinowitz, shlit’a. He, I am told, occupies such a position within that community. But for yoatzot to be accepted elsewhere, including the Sephardic, American Modern Orthodox, and haredi communities, support from a wider group of Torah luminaries may be necessary”

        Rabbi Adlerstein, this is a well worded revision! Thanks and yasher koach

  10. tzippi says:

    Steve B. asks, “But then why is the yoetzet a new thing that was never a requirement to fulfill womens needs throughout the generations?” Maybe women had different and fewer shailos then contemporary women do.
    I’m not militant one way or another though I will say Rabbi Adlerstein’s arguments ring true.

  11. mmbbhk says:

    1.  My impression of the yoatzot is based on anecdotal evidence, since I only know a few, here in Israel. Their learning, knowledge of how to learn, and respect for Torah, are truly impressive.  It is impressive enough that I am confident that they know their limitations.  This is why I don’t share the concerns expressed in your article, about yoatzot deciding shailos when they don’t have enough experience or knowledge of the circumstances.  A person who takes it upon himself to respond to non-trivial shailos is going to be either a major talmid chacham or an am haaretz, since anyone in between knows that he isn’t competent to do it.  The yoatzot I know are not am haartzim.  (Some of them work very closely with serious poskim and might gain enough shimush chachamim to be talmidos chachamim, but they know very well the limitations that halacha places on them).

    2.  Only a small percentage of niddah shailos truly require psak.  Most of them require a very close familiarity with halacha psuka in this area, which the yoatzot have and an average guy with smicha doesn’t.  I am quite confident that when something arises that really does require psak, the yoatzot pass it on to the appropriate authorities.

    3.  On the various Facebook and Internet discussion groups for frum women, some of the participants crowdsource delicate niddah shailos and receive answers from people who often have a confused understanding of the halacha.  So yes, it would be lovely if every woman know when not to be tzanua and go ask the rav or send her husband to ask him. However, in reality the practical alternative to asking a yoetzet may be asking random people on the Internet.

  12. Dr. E says:

    The way I see it, is that both sides of the debate on Yoatzot are within the pale of normative Orthodox Judaism. So, I don’t view the issue as mutually exclusive. In some communities and shuls, Yoatzot are a great idea and fill a significant void. In other communities, it is probably not such a good public policy idea. And in some communities and shuls, it could go either way. Eilu v’eilu. In any event, I don’t see that having Yoatzot as an option (in a shul, community, or virtual) for women is such a bad thing. Some (women and/or their husbands) might prefer to go to a Rav and some might prefer to go to the Yoetzet with an initial inquiry; it’s the couple’s decision. I don’t believe that one resource undermines the other, the same way that Kallah Teachers and Rebbitzens in many communities have always been playing the same Halachic gatekeeper role (albeit without formal Yoetzet-level training). All of the Yoatzot with whom I am familiar are responsible individuals. They know the limitations of their knowledge base and have no desire to become more than Yoatzot. So, I do not see any “slippery slope” here.

    Some of the practical glitches to which some point, are just that. Glitches of access and timeframe can occur with either option and there is always room for improvements. So, those issues are not linked exclusively to a Rav or a Yoetzet and should not be a reason to discount either option.

  13. Elkan says:

    But why “Yoeztet” or Yoatzot? Why can’t we just call them Rebbetzins with training in Niddah and Ishut? I think a major part of the resistance to the concept is the title and if there were a directory of Rebbetzins with special Ishut training and shaila-faciltating, this would be a non-issue

    • Chana Siegel says:

      Because the only qualification for being a rebbetzin is marrying a Rav.

      • Bob Miller says:

        Are there any generally recognized conditions that have to be met before an aspiring advisor is deemed to be a yoetzet? Or does each training institution set its own rules according to its own philosophy?

      • Ilana Elzufon says:

        There is only one institution that trains yoatzot: Nishmat. In Israel, the program is two years, two days and one evening per week. I believe in NY it is an equivalent amount of time but structured differently. All yoatzot take written exams on the halachic material regularly throughout the course, and must pass an oral exam with four rabbis to receive certification. It is not clear to me why Rav Adlerstein does not believe us to be capable of learning a Chavot Daat or Sidrei Taharah.

        [YA – What I wrote was capable of deciphering and explicating a Chavos Daas or Sidrei Taharah on their own. I, for one, have never met a human being who after learning two days and one evening a week for two years could do that – nor in three times that long.]

      • Hillel Katchen says:

        Rabbi Adlerstein, indeed no human being after learning two days and one night a week for two years could do such a thing. But you assume that the women coming in to the program have zero background. In fact, they need to show lots of background and much prior learning in deciphering and explaining complicated sources. They also have to learn a great deal of the material on their own, and then be tested on in on a monthly basis, and then they have four 45 minute oral bechinot with four rabbis at the end. I cannot think of a more rigorous way of testing knowledge of halachic material that is currently employed today. It certainly is far far less rigorous than the way Rav Zalmen Nechemiah tests men for semicha. That is not a judgement on Rav Zalmen Nechemia, as there are more rigorous semicha programs and less, but it is a judgement of the Nishmat program considering how rigorous the acceptance process, the learning and testing is.

      • Ilana Elzufon says:

        No, that’s exactly not what you wrote. When I commented on this post, the sentence read: “Nor would I ever entrust a nidah question to someone who could not independently study a Chavos Daas, or a Sidrei Taharah.” You revised it, which is fine. But instead of acknowledging the revision, you replied to my comment with the words “What I wrote was…” – implying that I had not read your statement carefully. That’s dishonest. And I don’t think I would feel comfortable entrusting a halachic she’elah to someone who engages in that type of dishonesty, with the goal of making someone else look bad.

        Just to be clear, the yoatzot program consists primarily of “seder” – independent learning under the guidance of a senior yoetzet – as well as a shiur with Rav Warhaftig. Yoatzot candidates certainly read and understand a Chavot Daat or Sidrei Taharah on a regular basis, which is a reasonable interpretation of “independently study.” I do not know whether we could “explicate” these texts to your satisfaction or not.

        [YA – Please tell me what is unclear about the word “independently,” which is what the pre-revision version stated.]

      • Rebbetzin says:

        My husband, a Rav and Posek, spent 1 full yeshiva year – 3 sedarim a day (9+hours) – with a chaburah who were all expected to put in same amount of time in addition to shimush over a few years with a senior Rav for Maaros and shailos. 2 days (without a night seder) and 1 night seder cannot compete. I think it is important to be upfront that the program is an overview and know what is expected of the men who are feilding these kinds of shailos.

      • dr. bill says:

        We do not have precise standards for smicha and passing the bar is rarely sufficient grounds for hiring a particular lawyer. Normally, shimush, the reputation of the degree granting institution and the individual’s character is critical. So too with Yoatzot.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    The bottom line is that a Yoetzet views herseld as enabling women to observe Taharas HaMispahacha properly and without an improper sense of Tznius that would either lead to being overly Machmir or viewing the whole area of Hilcos Nidah as one the less one knows the better one is. FWIW, anyone who knows any of the RY in RIETS who deal with this area of Halacha can testify that they do so with great sensitivity for anyone who presents them with halachic issues in this aea of Halacha, regardless of their personal views on the need for Yoetzot Halacha.

  15. David F says:

    I admit – when the idea of yoatzot first was introduced, I was horrified at the thought. From my classic Charedi perspective, it was not something I welcomed or thought much of.
    Over the years, I’ve had a few occasions to interact with the world of yoatzot, although not through personal interaction – more second-hand info – and I was pleasantly surprised each time. I’ve also looked at their website from time to time and never found anything there that was incorrect. So although I don’t have enough experience with the program to have formed a definitive opinion, I can say that personally many of my reservations have been relaxed since their introduction.
    On the other hand, if the intent is merely to use this as the Trojan Horse with which to introduce and advance the feminist agenda, I do not believe that would be a positive outcome.
    I also sincerely hope that any shailoh other than the very basic ones are routinely discussed with a competent posek by the yoetzet to ensure that they are not overstepping their boundaries. If this is the case, I believe there’s a good case to be made for the continuation of the yoetzet program.

  16. Shades of Gray says:

    “We perhaps need women who can reassure other women that asking a shaylah of a rav should not be seen as a violation of her sense of tzniyus.”

    If the issue is deeply- rooted and depends on the person, it might be hard to change; it’s a sense of shame rather than one that is hashkafic and educated(even if modernity might somehow contribute to the Yoatzot need.) The husband asking the question, or asking through a Rebbetzin avoids this as well as Yoatzot.

    It’s not the same, but one issue in Ezras Nashim(women EMT) IIRC, was that even women who use a male OB/GYN prefer a female EMT; that benefit was weighted against any drawbacks of the new proposed system.

  17. It seems to me that most of those objecting to yoatzot halacha assume that they are somehow leading FFB, beis-yaakov educated girls away from the correct path, which is to consult a Rav. What about the scores of women who returned to Torah Judaism much later in life. They are not used to the idea of taharat hamishpacha. They are not willing to demean and debase themselves (as they see it) by asking these intimate questions of a man, and are far more likely to see it as embarrassing and demeaning than a woman who has grown up with the idea. When these women say ‘I won’t keep taharat hamishpacah if it means demeaning myself in this way’, is he willing to tell them ‘take it or leave’, knowing full well that the majority will leave it? Is it preferable to leave numerous women potentially committing an issur kareit every month that can be easily prevented by having a yoetzet halacha who is knowledgeable enough to answer their questions, and to pass them on to a higher authority when necessary?

    [YA – “Knowing full well?” What is getting demeaned here are the legions of baalos teshuvah whom I have known who have absorbed very much very quickly, and are completely indistinguishable in their yiras shomayim and their life styles from the FFBs who taught them.]

    The anti-YH brigade, in seeking to deride the ability of a YH to pasken colours in niddah shaylos, also overlook the fact that women get practical practice in shimush in colours several days of the month in their own personal lives. Unlike a man who has to attend a Rav who receives many niddah shaylos, and has to log a huge number of hours of practically viewing colours before he is able to pasken on his own, women become familiar with the true colours of red, brown, black and yellow long before they have heard the term taharat hamishpachah. How can you discount the value of a woman’s practical knowledge in this field? How can you ignore that most women, after a few years of keeping taharat hamishpacha, are able to make their own decisions about most colours without asking anyone, purely through practice and knowing their own bodies?

    [YA – Completely irrelevant. There are simple determinations, and there are complex ones. For the complex ones, the experience and judgment of a serious talmid chacham is indispensible. Some yoatzot are good at this; some arguably not so good in working with the serious talmid chacham. This comes from impeccable sources. Perhaps the record in Israel is different. We have to concern ourselves, however, with the situation in chutz la-Aretz as well. Readers will have to decide whether they wish to believe rabbanim muvhakim or not. But that is the claim.]

    Another erroneous assumption that I think both R Adlerstein and the 4 authors of these response made is to assume that every woman who doesn’t ask a question will take a machmir line. This is definitely not the case. There are countless women who will ignore a reddish stain and pretend it’s not there, rather than have to ask a question that they feel is embarrassing.

    Furthermore, I am tired of this specious objection to women ‘paskening’. Paskening is another word which is abused and overused today. It should mean only when an answer needs to be given to a new and complex question. Instead, it is used to mean answering any halachic question. Yoatzot absolutely do take their questions to a male rabbi for ruling, and are encouraged to do so whenever they are unsure, but to pretend that yoatzot must not and do not pasken in this sense is ridiculous. Women pasken.

    [YA – Again, the “psak” we have been talking about is what is necessary when the situation is not cut-and-dried. Readers can roughly figure out for themselves the mix of situation is other areas of halacha between those questions that neatly fit into what they know from Mishnah Berurah, and which require a good deal more. The existence of the latter does not detract from the utility of Mishnah Berurah, nor from those who labor to master it. But it does point to the need for rabbonim who have taken it to the next levels.]

    Women pasken for themselves every time that they decide whether or not to take the bedikah cloth to the rav. Women pasken for themselves when after a few times of asking about a particular colour, they gain enough self-confidence to answer their own question with ‘no, this colour is not a problem’. Paskening appears to now be defined as ‘someone else answering a question that I don;t know the answer to’, just like ‘frei’ seems to mean ‘someone who keeps less than I do’. R Adlerstein should stop pretending that there is any problem with women giving a halachic answer to a halachic question that requires some thought. To someone with lesser knowledge it might appear to be an original psak. To the yoetzet, the answer is clear.

    Most of all, I am extremely offended by R Adlerstein referring to the 2-year, intensive study program that the yoatzot have to undergo in order to answer questions on this very important field as ‘drips and drabs of rabbinic jargon learned in a sub-standard program’. I can only assume that he deliberately chose this language in order to be offensive, since it serves no other purpose, and am disappointed and disgusted that he cheapened a serious debate on an important topic by making such rude and insulting attacks.

    [YA – The phrase “I can only assume…” either says something about the author, or her cause. In either case, what it says is not very positive. It should have been clear that this footnote, which spoke of women’s semichah, not of yoatzot, was aimed at rabbahs and maharats. It has since been tweaked to protect against similar assumptions.]

    • Amanda Bradley says:

      Thank you, R Adlerstein, for posting my comment. If i can reply to your replies:

      1. I am fully aware that there are “legions of baalos teshuvah who have absorbed very much very quickly, and are completely indistinguishable in their yiras shomayim and their life styles from the FFBs who taught them”. I do not refer to those legions of women, as should have been clear from my wording. I do not include all baalos teshuva, i include those whom i have described as feeling, rightly or wrongly (and you are free to debate how wrong their emotions are) that they will not ask a man their niddah shayloh. They are the ones who are asking questions on facebook groups rather than asking a rav, they are also very often ones who have no close connection with a rav, and they will be left to commit kareis without a yoetzet halacha to ask. This is not a case of yeherag v’al yaavor that we should not change our traditions, nor is it a huge change that is being requested.

      2. Agreed there are simple and complex questions. I am not implying that any woman can, after a few years without training, answer any shayloh of kesamim. I am pointing out that this is a very important area of hilchos niddah, and one in which a woman, with supervision from a qualified and experienced rav, can become expert faster than an equivalent male. I do not think this should be overlooked.

      3. In between the informed and learned baalabus (and equally the informed and learned baalabusta), and the talmid chacham delivering original psak, there are many intermediate learned men and women, whose knowledge goes beyond the mishnah brurah level and yet know when to refer a question on to the more expert talmid chacham. The answers of this intermediate level are often erroneously referred to as ‘psak’, and many of your readers and maybe even some of your contributing writers seem to think that this is something women can never do. this however is what many women do, often for themselves, often even for others. this is the level which the yoetzot halacha occupy, which is perfectly permissible by halacha and has plenty of precedent.

      4. I apologise for having misread your footnote, and appreciate that you ‘tweaked’ the wording so that there would not be such potential for misunderstanding. I take that you agree that making such a reference to the yoetzet halacha program would be extremely offensive. I remain puzzled as to why you included a footnote about women’s ‘semicha’ in an article about yoatzot halacha. the two topics are not the same, do not share the same motivations, agenda, leaders, actors, titles, or anything other than that they both concern women and both concern torah. Such an inclusion only confirms my suspicions that this sally against yoetzot halacha is merely a proxy war that is aimed at the OO.

      I would like to point out that i have no ’cause’ other than the one we share of Torah learning and Torah observance, and remain frustrated by the continual insistence on lumping together any initiative that involves women and torah learning. I, and many like me, would appreciate it if you could refrain from assuming that any woman who supports yoatzot halacha must have some ’cause’ other than the one we share.

      [YA – We seem to be moving much closer together, with the possible exception of the last paragraph. Remember, this did not start out adversarial. the idea was to present pros and cons, some of which are not necessarily the concerns or positions of all the contributors. The feminist slippery slope concern is out there, and it would be out there even if every yoatzot booster swore to the contrary on a stack of Artscrolls. The issue of women’t roles is so fraught that it is quickly coopted by all kinds of people. If you read some of the op-eds in the past months, writers – quite likely none that you know – have seized the yoatzot model to “prove” that women clergy have arrived in the Orthodox community. This may not be the doing of any of you, but you cannot blame “the street” – or a part of the street – for its concerns. Yes, there is something that yoatzot boosters could do about it if they wished, but that is whole, ‘nother discussion.]

  18. Bob Miller says:

    I’m reminded of the small walk-in medical clinics now present in some chain drugstores. These are typically staffed by nurse-practitioners capable of writing prescriptions, and not by doctors. The patient has to be aware of the situations that are beyond the professional abilities of the staff. The staff nurses also recognize this and are trained to refer people elsewhere as required..

  19. DF says:

    The notion of woman rabbis, call them what you will, is a bad idea (as I have commented publicly here and elsewhere before) because of empirical reasons, not halachic reasons. Why import the failed and divisive ideology of feminism into the relative tranquility of orthodoxy? Yet I have no problem with yoatzot. The truth is, it IS uncomfortable, and more than a little weird, to be bringing one’s private matters to another man. Though our wives (and their husbands) may begrudgingly go along with it, a great many of them don’t like it, and who can blame them? And the fact that the rabbi gains no perverse pleasure out of the matter is not relevant; it’s her and her husband’s feelings that count, not the rabbis. It simply goes against intuitive notions of common sense and tznius.

    The Gemara is Niddah is מפורש that women used to serve in such capacities. I well understand issues of slippery slope, and that even issues that objectively are permissible might be considered otherwise because of the “social ” issues that feminists have counterproductively placed around the issue. With that all said, we have to be fair. There are times for innovations. If this isn’t one of them, then I don’t know what is.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      DF-if you are referring to the Gemara in Nidah that you say is Mfurash, I think that a careful view of that sugya would support the view that Dvorah was permitted to serve as a Shofetes because there was noone else who was capable-a classic instance of Bshas Hadchak Bdieverd Dami-as opposed to a lchatchilah.

  20. Eli Blum says:

    The Medrash Rabba brings a case where a Kohen started teaching his wife Hilchos Maaros of Tzaraas as he needed to leave to make Parnassah, until she convinced him to stay. Seems to me a clear – cut Mesorah that women should be able to see and decide basic Maaros.

  21. Tzvi Yisrael says:

    I may come across sounding vicious, however I feel this thought is worthy of airing out here on this forum, please indulge me. As a Torah People we are aware that our metric system has to be defined by the Torahs dictates. War and peace, love and hate, who what when and where all need to be defined by the Torahs definitions. We cannot apply our liberal Western thinking, standards and mores to the Torah. That said, I will pose a provocative question in context, as follows. Are the women (or many of them) that find themselves feeling abashed to pose a technical halachic question to a male rabbi, also abashed to walk the streets with their halachic ervah of any kind visible? Follow my thought process? The Torah defines for us what tznius and proper behavior is. To me it seems that it is a false piety or misplaced modesty that suddenly leaves fearless and strong women unable to present a question to their local orthodox rabbi, and hence the creation for this need for the yoetzet, maharat and rabbah. From another angle, should music producers start giving away all their music for free because many people will copy it for their friends? Are we being forced into a corner of allowing this slippery slope of womens rabbinic counselours because some women pose shailos on facebook?

    • Moshe Dick says:

      This is the most ridiculous post on this matter and only a man could have written this. Halachic “ervah” indeed. Apart from the fact that this is often subjective-check your gemoro- it is insulting to women, accusing them of “false piety” or “misplaced modesty”. Pray tell me, Mr.Tzvi, how comfortable are you-as a man- discussing you most intimate details with a Rov? Not very, I presume. “al achas kamma ve kamma” for women.

      • Steve b says:

        Is it really ridiculous? It’s a valid point. And here is another valid point . How many women who insist on a yoetzet also insist on only having a female OB/GYN ?
        If you have no problem discussing intimate details with a male doctor, why is there a problem discussing similar issues with a male Rav?
        I have discussed intimate details with doctors of the opposite sex. It may be uncomfortable but you do it. Why are religious issues different?
        Which brings us back to the question, is this authentic Judaism or feminism?

      • David Ohsie says:

        “How many women who insist on a yoetzet also insist on only having a female OB/GYN ?”

        While it is hard to say exactly, it is probably a large majority of women overall. Medicine int the US is subject to supply and demand, and the overwhelming majority of those training to become in OB-GYN are women:

        “Almost 82 percent of all OB-GYN residents in the country were women in 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.”


      • Shades of Gray says:

        It may be because a doctor is viewed more–rightly or wrongly– as a detached professional while the male Rav is someone also encountered in social situations.

        (Granted, asking a question is different than an EMT situation, but a similar distinction based partially on social interactions was made in an article in Craine’s NY in favor of Ezras Nashim, women EMT’s, “It is one thing to go to male obstetrician, who has had extensive training and sees women in labor daily. But volunteer EMTs pose a different problem…If they [later] meet that EMT or Hatzalah member, they will likely cross the street to avoid him.”)

  22. In for a penny, In for a pound says:

    I personally have no experience with Yoatzot, so I ma not going to comment on their knowledge or capabilities. In addition, in my experience, the husband almost always asks the shailos himself and there are drop of boxes if necessary.

    However, I do find strange the comments above that women would feel uncomfortable having their ma’aros being seen by a man yet as quoted above as an alternative they “participants crowdsource delicate niddah shailos “. It would seem that they have a very funny confused sense of shame that they would post something publicly on the internet that they allege they are embarrassed to have seen by a Rav.

    Further it would seem strange that the ardent feminists are the ones who seem to be the most bothered by this. The ones who argue, how can a man tell us to be tznua, let them not look. I can go out in public with as little covering as I wish. (Not saying that the Yoatzoat act this way, nor do all the women asking them questions, but those who are most vocal about how can we ask a MALE to look at our personal stuff). Forget about the OO who make the same claims while they publicly broadcast explicit sexual activities with Dov Linzer commenting and tittering like a preteen alongside.

    To sum up my point, it seems that those being most vocal about the alleged necessity are rather disingenuous.

  23. A Woman's Perspective says:

    I am going to share my personal experience with Yoatzot. I live in a VERY small city Jewishly-speaking. There is one orthodox shul. The rabbi is my de facto rav, but only because there is only 1 option.

    I learned hilchos niddah years ago when I was married and while I tried to follow the laws to the best of my understanding, I never understood them or the nuances involved. I began to hate this aspect of halacha, feeling it was one of these “a-ha – gotcha” type part of Judaism. I was a BT and never had any insight into this part of Judaism until I was about to embark on my next chapter of married life and immediately started questioning how I had signed up for this mitzvah with so little prior knowledge.

    BH, I got pregnant very quickly with my first and while I had ups and downs with niddah, my stringent approach didn’t hurt our chances of conception. Unfortunately, getting pregnant with my second was very trying and my attention to halacha as I knew it (and as I thought I understood it) was acting against me.

    All the while, our community was changing rabbis and each one was becoming my posek. My kallah teacher had long moved away and I felt overwhelmed and embarrassed to ask questions of the new rabbis.

    It was at that time that I finally found the Yoatzot. I read everything on the website and it helped me understand that things were not as black and white as I had assumed. The questions they were being asked were so comforting and so similar to my own. Some were simple – so simple that I felt like I would judged by the rabbi as someone who knew nothing – if I had bothered to ask him. These were questions about dates/times/etc. that I just needed to better understand the concepts and were not psak-worthy. Then there were the complex questions – and for each of these, the answer clearly would state to consult your rabbi.

    BH, after much struggle (possibly more than was necessary) I got pregnant again and have gone on to have more children. I have only once called the hotline and it was because I felt at the end of my rope. I was unable to reach the local rabbi, had a pressing time-sensitive question and needed to talk to someone knowledgable.

    Thanks to the Yoatzot, I have actually learned to appreciate the mitzvah and understand that there are no stupid questions. I have learned that rabbis are still the ones to contact for complex questions. I have gained a much broader understanding of halacha than I was able to learn in those early days from my kallah teacher. I all the while, I have had my husband drop of ma’aros to the rabbi, and yes, I am still extremely embarrassed and honestly I avoid doing it whenever possible (as an aside, I challenge some of the more vocal men in this discussion to drop off their possibly soiled undergarments for a member of the opposite gender to review under bright sunlight and see how it makes them feel).

  24. Sarah says:

    If the hesitations presented above are the sum of all counterarguments to the institution of yoatzot then, as a frum woman living in the chareidi world who believes that yoatzot are a necessary component of a healthy frum society, I feel heartened, since most of the abovementioned arguments are weak and easily debunked.

    1. Local knowledge of the personal circumstances of the one asking the question: if this is a legitimate argument, where is the pushback against such organizations as Bais Horaah and Torat Hamishpacha? If the issue of distance and lack of a personal relationship with the one asking the question is truly an issue then one would expect to see push-back against these “halachic hotlines”. There is none, obviously, which then exposes this argument against yoatzot as an excuse.

    2. Women “should not feel” that asking a rav private and intimate questions is a violation of personal tznius: Any injunction that one “should or should not feel” is a noble suggestion, but remarkably impractical, especially when those demanding a change in feeling have minimal to zero understanding of the lived experience of those he encourages to “feel” differently. Furthermore, the writer highlightimg that “we try to convey to our students that bodies are not something to be ashamed of” may apply to chinuch habanim, but for most girls who go through the BY system, who live in a culture where even a depiction of their face in a public forum is deeemed innapropriate, where their voices are not to be heard (literally and figuratively), where they do not learn about intimacy or taharas hamishpacha until at least seminary if not kallah classes… that sentiment does not apply. Girls chinuch and our current culture make it nearly impossible for a girl to switch her sensitivities on and off at the direction of a rav.

    3. Preservation of an old system: We cling to our mesorah. This is indeed the preferred approach, but only when changed societal circumstances have not rendered previous approaches improperly calibrated. For a rav to pasken an end of life shaila according to the medical realities of a half a century ago would be a halachic and moral travesty. The same applies here, as clearly highlighted by some of the statistics provided above; the system is not working, and it is immaterial why. If there is a 7-fold increase in TH shailos when women have a qualified female to ask their questions to, this means that absent the option of yoatzot, a very large percentage of women will either be crowdsourcing their shailos (as mentioned in a previous post, and I can vouch for that) or not asking at all. We must apply the mesorah with seichel.
    Additionally, within the paragraph of this argument, the writer notes, “If that talmid chacham is not quite what he ought to be in halachic expertise, he ought at least be someone with enough background to both recognize a good question, and have access to someone greater than himself” – is this any different than a yoetzet who is probably even more likely to recognize that a question is above her scope and bring it to someone more qualified?

    4. “While some yoatzot realize that they should check with people who have learned much longer than they have, this is not always the case. ” : And the point here is…? There are run of the mill LORs that consult with an expert rav for these shailos and others who unfortunately don’t. The argument continues that yoatzot do not have adequate training. So encourage and allow it then! No yoetzet is looking to take the easy route out. Most frum women – even at the lay person level – feel frustrated by the lack of knowledge they are given regarding this mitzvah that is ours. We want to learn more, know more, and it’s usually the disinclination on the part of the men and rabbanim to share the knowledge that is the problem. You can’t complain about insufficient knowledge and training (though I doubt it’s anywhere in the range you make it to be) when it is the complaining institution that prevents women from acquiring that very knowledge and training.

    Delegitimizing yoatzot will not have the outcome of encouraging more women to send their shailos to rabbanim. The women who already do will continue to do so (some easily, and some squirming with discomfort and shame), but those who do not feel comfortable to do so will not be so inspired to discuss intimate and private issues with rabbanim. Especially in light of some of the scandals that have come to light recently, It is disappointing that you have no understanding and empathy for those frum women who are hesitant to have such a close and intimate discussion with a rav. I fully agree with your contention that a personal relationship is invaluable for such shailos, yet I also am fully sympathetic with those who state that it is detrimental for a woman to have such an intimate relationship with any man. i believe that a yoetzet is the ideal solution – the questioner can have an intimate conversation with a yoetzet she can build relationship with, and she will be more able to provide those important details that are crucial for psak, yet are often left unsaid in an uncomfortable conversation with a rav. The yoetzet, properly trained and recognizing her role, can inform that which is appropriate and turn to an expert rav when psak is needed, in a professional, not personal, way.

    • lacosta says:

      i wonder if sara’s number 3 is not the Root Cause of the disagreement. one posits that had Sara schnerer been MO and had gone to the MO ‘gdolim’ of that generation and built her institutions , well one can only imagine how assur such a non-haredi conceived idea would have been ,nor gained acceptance [since as it was even w the chafetz chayim on board it took a lot of heat ]…

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    IIRC< RM Willig, not enthusiastic about Yoatzot, will work them providing that the Yotazot leaves the area of Psak Halaha to the Posek. Perhaps , the real issue is that the degree of adherence to Hilcos Nidah in the MO world was quite low and pioneers such as R M Fulda, one of my rebbes in JSS who was our Msader Kiddsushin and who needs a tremendous Refuah Shlemah, enabled many young men and women to fully observe this area of Halacha.

    I can vouch that if you ask any of the RY in RIETS who has an expertise in Psak in Hilcos Nidah such as RHS, R Willig, R Tendler, R B Simon and R Z Sobolofsky just to name a few, your inquiry will be treated properly, with all due respect and you will receive a prompt response.

    I would suggest that we need to train more chasan and kallah teachers -Maaseh Shehaya kach Hayah-I became a chasan during my second year of law school at Cardozo LS. R CD Zwiebel was a classmate , a mainstay of the Mincha minyan, and editor of the first edition of the Cardozo Law Review. R C Dovid gave a chasan shiur to me and every other chasan who was interested in which we learned the basics in Hilcos Nidah and how , what, when and how to ask a Shelah in the most sensitive and eidel manner. I knew that he was not just going to be a great lawyer,, but someone who would and is a great servant to Klal Yisrael.

    I don't agree with all of Agudah's stances, but there is no better representative and servant of his community than R CD Zwiebel. IMO, Agudah has a special Zcus-in the land of Pew studies, Agudah's Harbatzas Torah in the form of Daf Yomi packed a football stadium with 90,000 Yidden-I can't imagine any other group , frum or heterodox, even dreaming of such an event

  26. Hillel Katchen says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l supported the program (maybe not in published writings as far as I know, but trustworthy people who have gone through the program have quoted his support) and Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin is the posek for the program. There is no reason why the rock-solid support of this program should be questionable.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This