I am familiar with two different programs which (as far as I understand) teach women to be halachaik authorities. Graduates of one program--Yeshivat Maharat in New York--are called Maharat. Graduates of the other program--Nishmat: The Jewish Center for the Advanced Torah Study for Women in Jerusalem--are called Yoatzot Halacha.

What is the difference between Maharat and Yoetzet Halacha? I seek differences in what they learn and in what their level of authority is.

As a follow up question: my impression is that the second program is (more or less) universally accepted among Orthodox (or at least Modern Orthodox) Jews, whereas the first program is far more controversial. Is this true? If so, why?

  • The Yoetzet program only teaches the laws of Niddah. Their graduates aren't being trained to be full community leaders.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 13:23
  • @DoubleAA Then what is the difference between a Yoetzet Halacha and every other woman who learns the laws of Niddah when she gets married?
    – Daniel
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 13:26
  • 6
    The same difference between a Sofer Sta"m and every Jew who puts on Tefillin in the morning.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 13:27
  • Related judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/29084/…
    – Shmuel
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 7:24

3 Answers 3


A Yo'etzet Halakhah is there to answer questions that are going unasked because some women are understandably embarrassed to raise them with a male rabbi. They can also find answers that wouldn't cross a man's mind simply because the territory is more familiar. The only halachic decisions they give are ones where the questioner's community has a well established consensus ruling. If a decision requires discretion, ie "pesaq" or "hora'ah", they will consult with a poseiq, a rabbi.

(For all of the above, see http://www.yoatzot.org/questions-and-answers/answer.asp?id=1157 , from the the website of Nishmat, Rebbetzin Chana Henkin's seminary for producing yo'atzot.)

According to Rav Uzziel, the term "yo'etzet" comes from the Amidah. "Hashiva shofeteinu kevarishonah, veyo'atzeinu kevatchilah -- restore our judges like at first, and our advisors like in the beginning." The rabbinate continues the work of the shofeit, these women continue the work of the yo'etz. And is decidedly not that of rabbi.

In contrast...

A Maharat's diploma is considered ordination and calls itself by the same term -- semichah http://www.jta.org/2013/06/17/default/what-does-an-orthodox-ordination-certificate-look-like . While it doesn't say "Toreh Toreh" the female conjugation of "Yoreh Yoreh" (Can he decide halakhah? He can decide!) found on a standard rabbinic ordination, it does say "heter hora'ah lerabbim -- permission to give rulings to the masses." It is "rabbi" in all but name and in fact some are calling themselves "rabbah", such as the dean of Yeshivat Maharat -- Rabba Sara Hurwitz http://www.yeshivatmaharat.org/faculty-and-staff/2014/5/21/rabba-sara-hurwitz-dean

This is why there is broader acceptance of Yo'atzot than Maharatot: The motivation for creating Yo'atzot is to increase observance of Taharas haMishpachah. Traditional gender roles are preserved, and practical interpretation of halakhah is kept in the hands of people capable of qualifying to become judges. The Maharat is an acknowledgement of feminist ideals, the dignity and authority of today's woman, the level of Jewish education available to them, and consequently a belief that the rabbinate should be open to women.

  • I am trying to phrase this in a judgment-neutral manner. I would prefer edit suggestions to down-votes, but do whatever you feel is most appropriate. Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 19:04
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    I think this is an excellent answer. Thank you.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 19:06

Yoatzot halacha as I understand it are taught about the halachot of niddah in depth and often know a good deal about female reproductive biology (I am unclear how much of this is part of the training program and how much is learned elsewhere by women drawn to the program, such as physicians). They often serve an entire town rather than a single shul. They claim not to answer original questions, but only questions that have already been answered by rabbis. Sometimes they serve as a conduit for a question so that the woman who asks the yoetzet is anonymous to the rabbi (Yoetzet gets the question, asks the rabbi, and gives the rabbi's answer to the questioner. The rabbi need not know who the woman is, which can reduce the embarrassment some see as inherent in the system.) Yoatzot also sometimes serve to introduce the questioner to the rabbi or be a support as she asks her question. Yoatzot are accepted in many Modern Orthodox circles, but I would not say all.

Maharats are a more recent invention and I believe their curriculum is intended to cover all of the things typically included in a semikha program. Because they receive this training, I suspect that they see themselves having greater freedom to pasken independently, and they certainly fill positions in synagogues that would otherwise go to assistant rabbis or rabbinic interns/students. This strikes many in the Modern Orthodox community as problematic in that women are being ordained as rabbis by another name. As such, it is not accepted in most Modern Orthodox circles, but is accepted within Open Orthodox circles.

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    I acknowledge that this is poorly sourced. Suggestions on how to source it would help.
    – Ze'ev
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 16:44

Yoatzot Halacha only learn for the most part how to pasken she'eilot about niddah from women, as well as maybe other "women's issues."

Maharats focus on all of Halacha. In terms of perception, the rabbinate in Israel recognize yoatzot- not maharats.

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    But why do they recognize yoatzot and not maharot?
    – Daniel
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 13:53
  • @Daniel Maharat is a new program. They just had their first graduating class this month.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 13:56
  • @DoubleAA So the rabbinate doesn't recognize them because they just haven't gotten around to it yet? Seems unlikely to me. I have personally observed opposition to the Maharat program based on the idea that women shouldn't issue psak (not entirely sure that they do that, anyway), but they couldn't explain to me why it is worse than yoetzet halacha.
    – Daniel
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 13:58
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    @Daniel, if you're basing your question on opposition you've seen, please edit that motivation for the question into it so people can answer the question you actually mean to ask. (All it says now that there's controversy over acceptance, but nothing about actual opposition.)
    – msh210
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 15:52
  • @msh210 Isn't that what controversy is? Some people support and others oppose?
    – Daniel
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 15:55

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