Q&A: Why Ask the Rebbetzin? – Mel’s Answer

We were recently approached by the author of Coin Laundry, to respond to this recent post about the role of the rebbetzin*.  At the end of the day, the questions is essentially this:

Why ask the Rebbetzin? How is she qualified to answer?

(This is a complex answer and sort of winds through a few topics. So, while I know what I want to say, I’m actually having a difficult time structuring it.)

For many people, rebbetzins are more approachable, more human, more real-life than their spouses.  Without the title, they become more accessible and are often engaging the community in a more direct and personable way – perhaps even working in different areas within the Jewish community.  When dealing with personal matters, they may be more approachable and have more worldly experience to provide.  When dealing with women’s issues (ie. head covering and taharat hamishpacha), they may be more relatable and have personal experiences and anecdotes to add to the halacha.  For some women, the questions they have around these topics are less about the halacha than about the practical applications.  As a future rebbetzin, I already am asked these sorts of question regularly and I only anticipate that their frequency will increase in the years to come.

For many Rabbinic families, they go through the process together on some level. In fact, rabbinical programs are beginning to notice this more and are starting to step up and offer various levels of programming and training for future rebbetzins as well as the future rabbis. And in other cases where this isn’t provided, the future rebbetzins have sought out their own learning somewhere along their path as well.  It is wrong to assume that just because a woman does not have smicha or an otherwise official title, she is not learned and able to answer halachic questions. I know that my path to being a rebbetzin is paved with education.

I have many more rebbetzin mentors than rabbis in my life.  One of whom told me that there are two ways to approach it: that you are a team that is prepared to help and engage your community however you are needed or that you are two individuals with your own career paths, where one is the rabbi and the other is clearly not.  For my husband and I, the former is the right fit.  We are a team in our life and will continue to be one as he enters the rabbinate and I whole-heartedly embrace being the rebbetzin.

*I intentionally ignored the mentioned response that it is the only position of authority for women in contemporary Orthodox Judaism as that is a totally different post. Perhaps someday I shall tackle that too.

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3 thoughts on “Q&A: Why Ask the Rebbetzin? – Mel’s Answer

  1. Slightly off topic, but to the original post: the women in my community that I consider learned are either teachers in the girls’ high schools, or give shiurim in the community. Their husbands do the following for a living: one owns a car repair place, one works for Nasa, one is a Rabbi, one is a medical supplies supplier, one was a rosh yeshiva (obm), another owns a pet products company. Plenty are rabbis’ wives, but hardly exclusively. And sometimes the rabbis’ wives are quite the silent partners. It’s not quite as dependent on the husband as one might think.

    • I couldn’t agree more Ruchi. I definitely know women who are quite learned who are not married to rabbis and rebbetzins who are “silent partners.”
      (This may be a good topic for another day though since this whole series, both the original posts and the various requested responses stemmed from a woman specifically stating she would ask the rebbetzin.))

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