New York – Rabbinically Certified Female Halachic Consultants To Advise Women On Taharas Hamishpacha

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    Left to right seated: Rabbi Kenneth Auman, Rabbi Yaacov Warhaftig, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, Rabbanit Chana Henkin Left, to right standing: Michal Roness, Israeli program coordinator, Nishmat students: Tova Warburg Sinensky, Nechama Price, Lisa Septimus, Dena Block, Abby Lerner, Avital Wiessman and Sharon Liberman Mintz, president of American Friends of Nishmat. This photo was taken in the summer of 2011 in the Nishmat Beit Midrash in the Pat neighborhood of Yerushalayim.New York – In an effort to provide women with an extra measure of comfort and guidance in their observance of family purity, an Israeli institution which trains carefully chosen candidates on the subject of Taharas Hamishpacha and other related topics is about to graduate its first class of American trained advisers.

    The women, known as Yoatzot Halacha, go through an intensive course of study under the auspices of Nishmat, The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, whose Keren Ariel Halachic Institute has trained some 85 yoatzot over the past 14 years. While the yoatzot program, under the halachic guidance of Rabbi Yaacov Warhaftig and Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, has been placing yoatzot throughout Israel since its inception, it has only recently begun appointing yoatzot in America.

    While all yoatzot are certified by a panel of rabbanim in Israel, five American women bear the distinction of being members of the first class of yoatzot to be educated in the United States and will be officially graduating from Nishmat on October 27th. The new yoatzot include Mrs. Lisa Septimus, Mrs. Dena Block, Professor Nechama Price, Mrs. Tova Warburg Sinensky and Mrs. Avital Weissman, who serve as yoatzot in the Five Towns, Great Neck, Manhattan, Philadelphia and Plainview. Three other American yoatzot, Mrs. Bracha Rutner, Mrs. Shoshana Samuels and Mrs. Sara Cheses, who advise the Jewish communities in Riverdale, Teaneck, Tenafly, Los Angeles and at Yale University, were all educated in Israel.

    According to Rabbanit Chana Henkin, founder and dean of Nishmat, the role of the yoetzet is to give women a greater comfort level when discussing issues of Taharas Hamishpacha.

    “I taught Taharas Hamishpacha for years in many different communities and I found that women were hesitant to ask questions, which leads to both a lot of personal suffering as well as improper observance,” Rabbanit Henkin told VIN News. “It didn’t matter what community I was in, be it Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Sefardi, a kibbutz or anywhere else, women find it very uncomfortable to speak up about Taharas Hamishpacha.”

    Adding to their general reluctance to seek halachic guidance on something of such a personal nature was the discomfort of having to discuss these issues with a member of the opposite sex.

    “Many women understandably feel uncomfortable bringing their questions about these matters to their rabbi,” explained Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union who also serves on the Honorary Rabbinic Committee for Nishmat’s American program. “Sometimes their reluctance has to do with the fact that the rabbi is a man, so that they are embarrassed to share intimate details with him. Sometimes they feel that he cannot empathize with the particulars of their situation. Sometimes they are simply intimidated by him because of his position of authority. One way to resolve the dilemma that these women face is to provide them with other women, thoroughly trained in the specifics of the pertinent halachos, with whom they can consult. These women, known as yoatzot, are not only educated in practical halacha but are trained to be sensitive and caring and open to the concerns of women who are less knowledgeable or less observant.”

    Rabbi Weinreb was quick to point out that while the yoatzot may be extremely well versed in their field, they are in direct contact with rabbanim and poskim.

    “The yoatzot work closely with Rabbis in their community, consult with them regularly, and bring questions to them as they arise. It must be emphasized that these women conduct themselves with exemplary tznius, modesty, and in no way function in a rabbinical capacity. They are teachers, advisers, and role models.”

    It takes over 1000 hours of training for the women who are chosen for the program to become certified as yoatzot.

    “All of the yoatzot have devoted two years of study towards Taharat Mishpacha and medical, psychological, social, and other halachic issues that can directly relate to a couple’s observance of Taharat Mishpacha,” said Mrs. Septimus, who was appointed by Nishmat as the Five Towns yoetzet. Mrs. Septimus noted that the program involved approximately 15 lengthy written and oral exams.

    According to reports in the Five Towns Jewish Times, Orthodox rabbanim in the Five Towns community heartily endorsed Mrs. Septimus’ appointment. Mrs. Septimus is the wife of Rabbi Yehuda Septimus, who serves as the rabbi at the Young Israel of North Woodmere.

    “I firmly believe that the addition of Rebbetzin Septimus as a Yoetzet Halacha will be a wonderful asset to enhance observance and understanding of one of the most sacred areas of Jewish life,” said Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence. “I heartily welcome this important development in the Five Towns Community.”

    Rabbi Hershel Billet of The Young Israel of Woodmere noted that Mrs. Septimus would be filling a vital role in the community in her capacity as a yoetzet.

    “The yoetzet is not intended to replace the halachic and personal relationship between local rabbanim and rebbetzins and their congregants on this very sensitive area of religious life. Rather, it is our expectation that the yoetzet will support that relationship, complement it and enhance the observance of Taharat Hamishpacha in our community.”

    Mrs. Shoshana Samuels, a yoetzet who is now in her third year of serving the Teaneck community, has gotten an enthusiastic response from local women and looks forward to having more American yoatzot.

    “The feedback from women has been amazing, ” said Mrs. Samuels, who took over the role of Teaneck yoetzet over two years ago when her predecessor made aliyah. “At this point, I get a lot of phone calls; four or five a day, sometimes even more, and our thousandth caller was reached after a year and a half. The idea is to have women with a solid background on Taharat Hamishpacha to work with people, so that when a question comes up either we know the answer or we speak to someone more experienced.”

    According to Mrs. Samuels, many questions stem from a lack of knowledge in areas which are rarely discussed, leading women to err on the side of caution, something that may not be the right decision from a halachic standpoint.

    “In one of our very first shiurim, the rav came in and explained that one of the biggest problems in Taharat Hamishpacha today is chumra. Women don’t even know they are being machmir and it is a very big problem. We provide women with a lot of education and so many times people have said to me ‘I wish I would have known this when I was younger.'”

    Having the ability to contact the yoatzot by ways other than direct phone calls has also been beneficial.

    “Email definitely helps women who are squeamish about discussing these sensitive and personal issues,” said Mrs. Samuels. “Some women prefer texting. We try to be available to meet the questioners’ needs and comfort levels.”

    Rabbi Kenneth Auman, dean of Nishmat’s American program, has been involved in the program since its inception, two years ago.

    “It is a really difficult program and the women work very hard,” said Rabbi Auman. “They need to go through all the relevant gemaras, rishonim, the Tur, Bais Yosef, Shulchan Aruch, Shas and Taz on their own. After that, I give a shiur on the achronim, explaining various concepts in depth and Rabbi Gedalya Berger gives a shiur on the practical aspects. In addition there are various lectures on women’s matters, given by experts, on psychology, fertility and any other topics that may be connected including abuse, gittin and agunot.”

    Rabbi Auman emphasized that the yoetzet program is designed to help women properly observe a fundamental mitzvah that is the centerpiece of every Jewish marriage.

    “It is important to know what the yoatzot are and what they are not,” explained Rabbi Auman. “They are not rabbis and they do not purport to be maharats. They probably know hilchos nida as well as many rabbis and, in fact, the average rabbi probably doesn’t know as much on the subject as they do. When they encounter new situations, they don’t take it upon themselves to make the decisions but they call me, rabbonim in their communities and other affiliated rabbanim. Experts in the field can get called as well.”

    The fact that women are more likely to broach sensitive subjects with other women seems to be the key to the yoetzet program according to Rabbi Auman.

    “These women get questions that I was never asked,” observed Rabbi Auman. “The bottom line is women still feel more comfortable speaking to women. I try to be nice and I try to be warm but there is no comparison. I think that they really have promoted the observance of Taharas Hamishpacha in a very meaningful way.”

    Among the American rabbis who serve on the Honorary Rabbinic Committee of Nishmat’s U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program are Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rabbi Kenneth Brander and Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb.

    A second group of six American woman began their training this past summer in Israel at Nishmat. They will continue their studies under the guidance of Rabbi Auman and Rabbi Gedalyah Berger in Teaneck at the Maayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and hope to graduate in 2015.

    “We are Baruch Hashem so grateful to have five new highly qualified Yoatzot Halacha to serve the Orthodox community in the United States and enable women to ask their most intimate questions to other women, maintaining the highest level of dignity and the highest level of halachic standards,” said Mrs. Atara Eis, who is herself a yoetzet as well as the program director for Nishmat’s American program.

    “In my years serving as a Yoetzet Halacha in the United States, I saw how necessary it was to have more Yoatzot Halacha available for the communities, since the demand was far greater than the supply. Thankfully, Nishmat was able to fill this need with this branch of its Jerusalem-based program, which has been proven successful. I look forward to watching our Yoatzot Halacha continue to go m’chayil el chayil, as they improve Shalom Bayit and simchat hachaim for countless couples.”

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    51 COMMENTS

      • They are not female clergy. They only advise on this one topic. They know they are not Rabbis and will (and do) often consult with Rabbis. I know many charedi and yeshivish women who instead of asking shailos to men, just go “lechumra” and it can lead to fertility issues, shalom bayis issues, and halachic violations!!! Or they just give up on the mitzvah, which can be worse! They need someone who can relate to, who can understand, and to whom it does not feel awkward, intimidating, embarrassing etc to ask their questions to! And these Yoetzet know they are not Rabbis so unless its something routine- they ask their posek: which still leaves the original woman comfortable and willing and able to keep this mitzvah!

      • No slippery slope. They are not Rabbis. They don’t claim to be. The program they went through is not claiming them to be experts, rabbanim, or anything close to that. They are knowledgable in this one area of Halacha, can answer routine questions, and know who to ask for more complex cases! Any different than kallah teachers who teach our daughters the halachos?

        • Exactly as someone else mentioned. This is a way to get them in the back door so to speak. This may not be the intention, perhaps? However who would have thought that moving the baal tfila back to the bima would do what it did.

          Chodosh is assur min haTorah.

          • While these women aren’t clergy, there is nothing in halachah that prohibits female clergy. It is non-halachic attitudes like yours that drive people away from traditional Judaism.

          • You do realize that the slogan “Chodosh is assur min haTorah” was coined by the Chasam Sofer in the early to mid-19th century right? Meaning all of the heilege rabbis up until him didn’t necessarily feel that way (as well as many of the heilege rabbis after him, I might add). So is your repetition of that phrase supposed to mean something or actually carry some weight?

      • If you are uncomfortable with the concept of yoatzos, don’t consult with them and leave the rest of velt alone. Anything that makes taharas hamishpachah more accessible to more people without going out of bounds of halachah is a good idea.

      • I agree, a very dangerous slippery slope here that threatens thousand years of Talmudic grip on misogyny and patriarchal roles in Judaism. We can’t allow women to chip away on our advantages and roles as men; they might even show good results and that could dispel the myths in our books. How can we then continue to teach our sons that women can’t do much besides cook and make babies?

    1. This is completely needed. Women need to be able to talk to women. These are highly sensitive issues that a man, who has never been through anything like it personally, could not possibly understand or really connect to. What’s important is that this will bring our communities to greater observance of this mitzvah of utmost importance. And these women are in no way pretending to be Rabbis- they do consult often with Rabbanim and poskim but they can be the face the woman connects with.

    2. This is no more “sneaky” or “slippery” than the kallah teachers that have been utilized before and AFTER the chasuna. These women are just better trained (oooh… scary!)

    3. Why are we not training the community rebbetzins for such a job; talk about direct access to the Rav?
      Could this smack of a bit of feminism?
      Are we vetting these women out, to truly understand their hashkafa and what they hope to accomplish?
      Isn’t Nishmat and Maayanot known to walk the fine line of Modern Orthodoxy and feminism?

      It’s a FANTASTIC idea, for the right individual….For all else, its more than a slippery slope, it is a ski slope!

    4. How typical that males would make such comments. Not only are females uncomfortable asking sheilos of Rabbonim when it comes to this subject, but their husbands are as well!!! Which causes additional friction for the couple and their Shalom Bayis. When there is a sheilah and each is pushing the other to make the call, or they both just don’t bother, each one feels that the other doesn’t care about them. Each time this happens there is another tear in the fabric of their Shalom Bayis.

      So before we make foolish and ridiculous comments, lets take a minute to truly understand the full scope of the problems and issues involved.

    5. I’ve been using a yoetzet since I moved to Israel and what a relief! My yoetzet is also a pediatrician so she’s smart and gentle and knows to ask me the right questions. No more going through my husband, who may or may not have gotten the particulars right. And when something has to be shown to the rav, she takes it for me. I never want to go back to the old way. Some changes are good!

    6. Marriage counselors and Kallah teachers have long filled this role, no need to deviate and start something new that our forefathers would likely not have approved of.

      • Huh? Since when can women go to thier Kallah teacher? Mine – an extremely prominent one would never take that responsibility and send me straight for the Rav with my face turning all the colors of the rainbow from embarrassment. I will bet some husbands will be thrilled to not have to go to the rav with a shailah.

        • These women have FAR better training than almost any kallah teacher. In an area such as taharat hamishpachah with such grave consequences of error one might have expected that there would be support for people who can be relied upon to get things right.

      • Your comment shows a lack of understanding of what they do. I know because I’ve consulted with them via phone. (not every question involves seeing a cloth). Why not check out their website with its informative questions and answers before you suggest that this is something any Kallah teacher or counselor is qualified to do. Everyone should look at their website before commenting.
        To the people who say this is a slippery slope: Did you say the same thing when you read about Rabbis ordering the beating of men without investigating whether they are actually withholding a get (or whether they even exist altogether)? Does the slippery slope that might lead Yiddin to internal violence for even minor disagreements (especially by people wit cash to throw around) bother you too or do slippery slopes only bother you when they actually DO help women?

    7. As a husband, this is a great thing, and I hope that many more women train for this.

      I hate having to ask a Rav every time there is a Sha’ala, and then being asked various questions that I can’t answer because I didn’t feel right asking my wife all the gory details. This is a far better solution.

      I should just point out that not all women will be more comfortable talking about these Halachos with other women, precisely because women will connect on a deeper level, while a Rav will answer on a very technical level. This is the reason why many women prefer a male ob/gyn to a female ob/gyn, simply because to a male ob/gyn, it’s all technical, not personal.

    8. hey, remember Devorah Haneviah? Miriam Haneviah? Esther? Sometimes women need to be in leadership roles and guess what? Even the MEN sought their counsel. OOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • WHAT HAS CHANGED? Hmmm. Societies evolve.
        Let’s see. There’s the combustion engine. The cotton gin. The light bulb. Rifles. Machien guns. Industrial Revolution. Electricity. Running water. Computers. Internet (VIN!). Cell phones and smart phones. To list just a few changes. Not to mention yeridas hadoros. The stark reality of this day and age. An appreciation of sensitivity and the need to be sensitive. To empower women to know about their own bodies and not assume men know about women’s bodies better than women know about women’s bodies.
        Sane, I believe you need to change your name! Cheers!

    9. Every issue that moves the needle even somewhat is very upsetting to many.

      Remember when Gemoras went to a bold Rashi Diveri Ha’Maschil? oh… learning Gemora is now becoming easier… What about Art Scroll? many frown on it’s very existence. What about all the Harbotas Torah it created? Why keep it bottled?

      This is a great idea. If women ask these Shaylos to trained women, why not???

      If one has a cardiac issue, does he/she go to the cardiologist, or the Rov?

    10. I would not fret too much with this experience. It is not a clergy position and women can and should help other women. Its just a title for someone who has an accomplished resume on the subject. So maybe this will also solve the issue of ladies who want to “participate more” and the ones who erroneously want to be ‘maharats’. Probably a good change.

    11. SO proud of these ladies. I learnt with Lisa Septimus in yeshiva and mrs. lerner is fabulous and taught me a lot!!! On behalf of all frum women, we are delighted!!!

    12. Kallah teachers teach the basics. Their function is not, and never was intended to be, to consult on difficult questions in taharas mishpacha. They lack the training and availability. If you are saying, why not train kallah teachers better? Then duh, you’d basically end up in the same place, creating ‘yoatzot’ from those kallah teachers.

      Why not have rebbetzins fulfill this function, of talking to women about their shailos and serving as intermediary to their husbands, the rabbanim? Because being a rebbetzin does not a suitable yoatzet make. Not every rebbetzin has the right personality for this kind of work. It could also be very embarrassing to women to confide intimate details to a rebbetzin.

      • You were able to. Mine I would not feel comfortable asking these sort of questions to. I would turn beet red every time I saw him walking down the block…it could get quite awkward. Plus, not every Rav knows how to talk to women… And confidentiality could be an issue- why should his wife see me come over??

      • Well that’s great for you but I think you’ll find you’re in the minority, particularly in the modern orthodox world. The fact that the yoatzot field thousands of question just shows how much they’re needed.

      • “It is important to know what the yoatzot are and what they are not,” explained Rabbi Auman. “They are not rabbis and they do not purport to be maharats. They probably know hilchos nida as well as many rabbis and, in fact, the average rabbi probably doesn’t know as much on the subject as they do. When they encounter new situations, they don’t take it upon themselves to make the decisions but they call me, rabbonim in their communities and other affiliated rabbanim.”

        Why the apologetic approach? It sounds to me like their knowledge is being belittled to make anti-feminists feel better. Rabbi Auman admits that they probably know hilchot nida better than the average rabbi but G-d forbid they should make decisions that rabbis (with no more knowledge than the yoatzot!) make.

        Instead of giving them credit & saying “kol hakavod to these women for making the time to sit & learn despite family & other responsibilities” or “wow, these are great, learned women who have so much to contribute, we’re lucky to have them in our communities” people are treating them with suspicion and basically saying “well, it’s not ideal but I guess we need them as women like talking to other women”.

    13. Isn’t it the rav’s job to pasken if something is niddah or not? Do these women bring the shailos that women have to a rav or do they decide on their own?
      Rabbinic law as derived from the Talmud is binding upon all Jews. In addition, there have always been local customs and prohibitions, which are binding where practiced. So if the custom is to ask a rav, it seems that cannot be changed.

    14. My wife was never comfortable bringing shaylos to our Rav as she was raised to be very tsanuah.

      We were once in a neighborhood in EY with a yoetset who worked with the Rav. My wife said it was much more pleasant for her.

    15. “For the past 3,000 years, the Rabbi was good enough. What has changed?”

      Good enough is rarely identical with ideal. For thousands of years it was “good enough” for women to know aleph beis and maybe read from a siddur and tehillim. But would you be happy if that was all your daughters learned in 12 years of school and seminary? I’m sure your daughters will learn chumash and rashi and way more halacha and machshava than your great-great-great grandmothers ever learned. What has changed? Much has changed, and today, Baruch Hashem, we can afford to educate our daughters to an extent far beyond what we could even just a hundred years ago. Much has changed. And although what was “good enough” for thousands of years would still be “good enough” today, it’s not great, and certainly far from ideal.

    16. Reply to #10: “Chodosh is assur min haTorah.”

      The irony of your post, Mark, is that you probably do eat chadash in chutz la’aretz, a safek issur lav, and which is, of course, the literal and halachic interpretation of that statement.

    17. What many of you may not realize is that when you send a shialeh to a Rav, often times they rely on the opinion of a woman who answers these shalos for them. Frum people are often so ignorant that at times it’s unbelievable.

    18. The yoetzets are a wonderful way to make women more comfortable asking sensitive questions. As a newcomer to Toronto, the local yoetzet here has been indispensable – connecting women with a widely respected Rav in the city for shaalos they may have, and being a patient and expert resource for anything under her purview. Without the yoetzet, many newlywed women would be lost and uncomfortable. Toronto appreciates our yoetzet immensely!

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