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UC Judaic Studies Professor Awarded Prestigious Award from Israel Institute

The summer research grant from the Israel Institute will allow UC's Michal Raucher, an assistant professor of Judaic studies, to launch research on the shifting roles of women in modern Orthodox Judaism.

Date: 10/19/2015 12:00:00 PM
By: Zack Hatfield
Phone: (513) 556-5087
Michal Raucher

Michal Raucher, an assistant professor in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Judaic Studies, has won a grant from the Israel Institute, a leading organization that promotes academic research specifically focused on contemporary Israel. 

The summer research grant will allow Raucher to begin research on female Orthodox clergy members in Israel. This spring, eight Orthodox Jewish women were ordained to serve as clergy, which is significant because Orthodoxy has traditionally excluded women from clergy roles. Raucher’s comparative research project, which will eventually lead to a book, aims in part to explore the differences between American and Israeli Jewish establishments as seen in their reactions to female Orthodox clergy. 

“There has been a lot of media attention lately regarding Israeli religious authorities rejecting the rabbinic authority of rabbis in America, significantly due to more liberal attitudes toward women in American Judaism,” said Raucher. “This project is, on the one hand, about women’s expanding roles in Orthodox Judaism, but this is also a lens through which we can explore how Judaism differs in Israel and America and consider why the treatment of women is often a focal point for tensions.” 

Raucher’s proposal notes that feminist Judaism observes women’s increasing role in Judaic practice will lead to changing interpretations of Jewish law, theology and philosophy. For instance, the Yoetzet Halacha is a recently added figure in Judaism that shows women are now being welcomed in positions of authority within a religion in which roles were once male-dominated. Once certified as a Yoetzet, a woman answers questions from other Jewish women concerning Jewish law as it pertains to women’s health, sexuality and family planning. A website and hotline also exists to help women pose questions to a Yoetzet considering they might otherwise be too embarrassed to bring to their male rabbis. 

Raucher’s research, which will derive from interviews, observations and archival material, will continue to map out social, political and religious contexts in America and Israel to better understand a changing Judaism in the 21st century. 

Raucher, who holds degrees from Northwestern University, Columbia University, The Jewish Theological Seminary, and the University of Pennsylvania, will travel to Jerusalem and its surrounding towns next summer to examine and evaluate the female clergy members as well as the communities they interact with.   

“Many religions still maintain that women cannot be leaders on par with men, but we know that women often challenge official positions in more subversive ways,” Raucher said. 

Raucher gives the example of the Nuns on the Bus group in the U.S. These nuns are following through on many Church teachings, but they are also taking a much more public role than nuns have in the past, and they are attempting to bring people’s stories to the political realm. “This is a feminist goal,” Raucher said. “They are making a radical contribution to Catholicism and changing the roles of religious women in the process. The same holds true for Orthodox Jewish female clergy. While they are upholding tenets of Orthodox Judaism, they are also changing the face of the denomination and expanding roles for Orthodox Jewish women. That is the heart of the tension here. How do women both affirm and challenge religious teachings, and what change might that bring about for religion?”

To find out more about the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Judaic Studies, visit the department's webpage.

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