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Several years ago the National Council of Young Israel made news when a story came out that they banned women from being the president of a shul. (see here and here for details.)

My question is what are the halakhic reasons why a woman could\could not be a president or member of parliament?

(dealt with in part here: Can a convert become a synagogue president? Why or why not? )

  • I feel like this has been covered already,the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim writes that they are not permitted – sam Apr 25 '14 at 1:47
  • אין מעמידין אשה במלכות שנאמר עליך מלך ולא מלכה וכן כל משימות שבישראל אין ממנים בהם אלא איש – sam Apr 25 '14 at 1:55
  • Concerning becoming president of Israel see Igros Moshe YD 2:45 hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14676&st=&pgnum=59 – sam Apr 25 '14 at 2:06
  • @sam - does that apply to a democracy? – Shmuel Apr 25 '14 at 2:09
  • There are religious women in Knesset. Though actually, i'm not so sure about using the plural here. The only one i can think of right now is Orit Struk (Bayit Yehudi). – Scimonster Apr 25 '14 at 5:08
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Most halakhic discussions on the topic start with the Rambam in MT Melachim 1:5 (quoted above in comments)

We may not appoint a woman as king. When describing the monarchy, the Torah employs the male form of the word king and not the female.

This principle also applies to all other positions of authority within Israel. Only men should be appointed to fill them.

There has been heavy discussion on the proper understanding of this Rambam. There are a number of opinions, from rishonim to aharonim, who strongly limit its scope and thereby explain why women are appointed or elected as shul presidents (the classical case in much of recent rabbinic literature), members of Knesset and other positions of leadership.

R Howard Jachter provides a good summary here

The Rambam's major commentaries, the Kesef Mishnah and Radbaz, cite the Sifrei on the aforementioned verse, as the source for the Rambam. However, the Sifrei merely states, מלך ולא מלכה, that a woman may not be appointed as the nation's leader. The Rambam does not have an explicit source for the extension of the Sifrei's rule to any position of leadership.

[...]

Although the Rambam rules that a woman may not be appointed to a position of authority, Rav Moshe and Rav Chaim David Halevi (the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, in an essay published in Techumin 01:811-321) note that many Rishonim appear to disagree with the Rambam.

Tosafot in Baba Kama 51a (s.v. אשר) write that a woman is permitted to serve as a דיין (a rabbinic judge). It is clear that Tosafot believe that a woman can be appointed to a position of authority.

The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 794) cites the Sifrei that a woman may not be appointed as king, yet he does not write that a woman may not be appointed to any position of authority. Indeed, in the next mitzvah, the prohibition to appoint a convert as king, the Sefer Hachinuch writes that this law does apply to any position of authority. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that this seems to clearly indicate that the Sefer Hachinuch does not agree with the Rambam.

Rav Moshe adds that it appears from both Rashi (s.v. כל) and the Ran (s.v. גרסינן) commenting on Kiddushin 67b that they do not accept the Rambam's ruling. Rashi and the Ran explain that the source for the rule that a convert may not be appointed to any position of authority is from an extra word in the Torah מקרב אחיך תשים עליך מלך (Devarim 71:51). The Torah could have merely stated "שום תשים עליך מלך מקרב אחיך." The fact that the Torah adds another "תשים" teaches that the rule forbidding appointment of a convert as king applies to any position of authority.

It can be readily inferred from this comment of Rashi and the Ran that they disagree with the Rambam. Finally, the Ramban (Shevuot 03a s.v. וכן) and the Rashba (Ibid s.v. ולא) seem to also disagree with the Rambam.

Modern poskim have different approaches to the issue (first four are from R Jachter's article) addressing both shul presidents and members of the Knesset

  • R Moshe Feinstein writes that although many Rishonim disagree with the Rambam, the Rambam's view should be followed in practice. He explains that since it is a matter of dispute (over a Biblical prohibition) that has not been settled in the Shulchan Aruch, in ordinary circumstances the Rambam should be followed. Thus, Rav Moshe writes, a woman should not be appointed as a president of a synagogue. However, in a case of great need, Rav Moshe felt it appropriate to rely on the Rishonim who disagree with the Rambam. For example, Rav Moshe permitted a poor widow to be appointed as a Kashrut supervisor, despite the fact that it is a position of authority

  • R Chaim David Halevi writes that the Rambam would explain these historical phenomena by stating that women cannot be imposed as leaders over the people. However, if the people accept her leadership, then the prohibition seems not to apply, Rav Halevi notes that this seems to follow what the aforementioned Rambam and Rashba said about Devora - she could serve as a ruler because the nation accepted her rulings. According to Rav Halevi a woman is permitted to be elected to a position of authority.

  • R Ben-Zion Meir Uziel (former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel) adopts the same position (Teshuvot Mishpetei Uziel Choshen Mishpat 6)

  • R Yehuda Amital adopted this ruling in practice. In 1988 he allowed a woman to be on the parliamentary list of his political party Meimad. He explained that this ruling of the Rambam did not apply to a democratically elected position. According to this approach, it would seem that halacha would sanction a woman serving as a president of a synagogue, if she were to be democratically elected to that position.

  • R Aharon Lichtenstein noted that it is clear the dati-leumi/Modern Orthodox community and its rabbinic elite have clearly come down in favor of a more narrow reading of the Rambam’s restriction. He pointed to the fact that for the past two decades religious women have run for Knesset as candidates of dati-leumi religious parties across the board and some have served as members of parliament. In addition, a few have served as ministers in coalition governments with the approval (despite an occasional rumble here and there) of the rabbinic leadership of those parties. These have included scholars such as R. Avraham Shapira, R. Mordechai Eliyahu, Rav Yaakov Ariel and others. (from here)

  • R Gedalia Dov Schwartz (Av Beit Din of the Rabbinical Council of America) believes that the issues raised by the Rambam are not applicable to the position of synagogue president, and that, consequently, there is no halakhic prohibition (from here)

  • since 2013 the United Synagogue in the UK have elected women as presidents of synagogue communities, following a ruling of the London Beit Din in 2012 that this was not in breach of halacha (from here which also brings a number of contrary opinions)

See also this very important article from Aryeh and Dov Frimer.

  • I do not understand how democratic elections in any way make it that a legislator was accepted by all. She was at most accepted by the people who voted for her list (even then, there was no statement of personal acceptance of each candidate), but most people in the country have not shown any support at all for any given person. (As far as I can tell, almost all members of the Knesset are individually opposed by a majority of the population.) Halevi's argument would only be relevant if there were elections for individual candidates, and the woman was elected with an absolute majority. – simyou Feb 11 at 8:48
  • R Halevi indeed speaks of a woman being directly elected to a position of authority, which would apply more to a country president (say in the US) or a Prime Minister (in the case of Israel). Could also apply to primaries in the case of Israel to select members of a party's list to be proposed for election – mbloch Feb 11 at 8:51
  • The reference to Tosafos Bava Kama 51a is incorrect. Does anyone know the correct source? – simyou Feb 11 at 8:58

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