‘Sephardic’ Halakhah? The Attitude of Sephardic Decisors to Women’s Torah Study

Here is a nice article summarizing the state of the field on the relationship of Sephardic Jewish Law and modernity. It is one of those article that one can read and then pretend to know what one is talking about. Fuchs summarizes those who see the Sefardi world as more lenient and the critics of the position. He presents the work of both Binyamin Brown and Zvi Zohar. Bibliographies are also given for the state of Rav Ovadiah Yosef studies and the attitude of sephardi poskim toward women. It has the liberal Rav Mesas and the the stricter Rab Batzri.

The article is from the legal perspective but we still lack a good article from the historical perspective. We successfully situate the challenges of German poskim in German history of the enlightenment, this topic needs a similar approach. From the 1880’s until the 1950’s the Islamic modernists were in the forefront creating many very liberal fatwa, especially in Egypt. Then there was a return to more conservative opinions and women started wearing the chador again. Egypt was a center of modernism, other countries less so. When Rav Ohana was alive and when Rav Ovadiah started it was the era of modernism. Yet, the latter disliked the laxity of the Jewish modernists in Egypt but was very liberal with the North African development town Jews in Israel. The article does not deal with Israeli sociology.

‘Sephardic’ Halakhah? The Attitude of Sephardic Decisors to Women’s Torah Study: A Test Case

Ilan Fuchs
Tulane University, Jewish Studies Program December 31, 2009
Bar Ilan Univ. Pub Law Working Paper No. 02-10

This paper examines Sephardic rabbinic attitudes to women’s religious studies, and more specifically, advanced Talmud study. I draw on Halakhic texts written in the second half of the 20th century by leading Sephardic rabbis that immigrated to Israel. I first examine the terms Mizraxi and Sephardic and explain on what grounds I find reason to compare the rabbis discussed. I argue that there is no monolithic Sephardic halakhic tradition and that the rabbis discussed hail from diverse communities that experienced and reacted to western and secular influences in unique ways. I then describe how these rabbis reacted to changes in women’s religious and secular education, changes they were forced to confront as their communities were exposed to changing values and social realities. Examining how Sephardic rabbis have responded to the challenge of women’s Torah study allows us to test the claim that the Sephardic halakhic tradition is more flexible and tolerant of change than the Ashkenazi orthodox halakhic tradition.

ht/Religious Clause

One could compare some of these tensions to the fatwa of Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, the recently deceased head of Al-Azhar University and grand Imam of the al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt. He was against female Imams and mixed events. Yet, he issued a fatwa allowing Muslim girls in France to take off their headscarves while attending school.
In October 2009, Tantawy launched a campaign against the Niqāb (the full-face veil which covers the entire body except for the eyes, increasingly worn by women in Egypt) by personally removing the Niqāb of a teenage girl (after she failed to remove it) at a secondary school affiliated to Al-Azhar University, He had asked the teenage girl to remove her veil saying: “The Niqāb is a tradition, it has no connection with law” He then instructed the girl never to wear the Niqāb again and promised to issue a fatwa against its use in schools. He then told the girl “So if you were even a little beautiful, what would you have done then?”

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

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