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Advancing the Status and Rights of Women in the Orthodox Community

12 August 2010 By New Israel Fund


Advancing the Status and Rights of Women in the Orthodox Community
Chana Kehat of Kolech – The Religious Women’s Forum

Chana Kehat, daughter of one of Me’a She’arim’s foremost rabbis, is one of the most prominent feminist activists in the religious community.  A mother of 6, she has a Ph.D. in Jewish Philosophy, and was awarded the President’s Volunteer Award.  With NIF’s support, Chana founded Kolech in 1998 to promote the rights and status of women through a consensual process of change from within Orthodoxy. 

Chana explains that the name of the organization was inspired by the Song of Songs: “Let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet.  [This] may be interpreted … as the unique promise of the Almighty, throughout human history, to listen to the female voice”.

Kolech now has 9 vibrant branches throughout Israel, and is the central national organization advancing issues such as gender equality curriculum for schools, fighting on behalf of “chained” and abused women, addressing the taboo subject of sexual harassment in the Orthodox community, speaking out against the Rabbinate on issues of women’s rights, and promoting increased religious roles for women within Orthodoxy.  Kolech, together with NIF and other organizations, made headlines this year when it helped lead a public campaign against segregation and humiliation of women on gender segregated public buses that run through ultra??Orthodox neighborhoods, opening a hotline and an internet blog for victims.

Now on the board of Kolech, Chana’s latest initiative is an institute which will train women and men to be Orthodox rabbis and religious-court dayanim.  They will form a cadre of Orthodox spiritual leaders who represent a moderate religious worldview and an egalitarian approach to the role of women in Orthodox society. 

Chana has become a role model for many women, but at the same time, has had to deal with severe criticism and attacks by some elements of her community.  She won a victory against her detractors when a labor court overturned a ruling that would have allowed a religious college to dismiss her due to low student attendance of her courses.  Chana claimed that in fact college administrators had discouraged students from taking her classes due to her feminist activism and views.  In the appeal, Chana's attorney wrote that her client's "one and only offense is that she dared to sound a feminist call within the religious Zionist community, and to fight for women who had suffered rape and sexual harassment.  Worse, she had the gall to succeed in her efforts."