A few weeks ago, an unusual photograph appeared in news outlets: it showed Israel’s outgoing president Reuven Rivlin looking on as Joe Biden knelt in front of Rivlin’s chief of staff. Reportedly, the American president had just learned that the latter, Rivka Ravitz, is the mother of twelve children, whom she raised while serving as a senior staffer to a series of Israeli parliamentarians, and then to her country’s president. Ravitz may be a somewhat unusual figure, but in the ḥaredi community of which she is a part, there is nothing unusual about women balancing careers with large families. Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt writes:
Ravitz has met with Pope Francis (a meeting where she did not shake the pontiff’s hand, for which she received special praise in the ḥaredi community, despite not shaking other male leaders’ hands), Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, King Felipe VI of Spain, and Vladimir Putin, among others.
Ravitz is, in many ways, the face of many Orthodox Jewish women, who identify as ḥaredi, who follow rabbinical rulings and who are uncomfortable in questioning the status quo publicly, who are devoted to traditional family values and community life—yet who are ready to step into leadership positions previously barred to women.
Outside her community, a ḥaredi woman can do whatever her heart desires, whether it’s finishing a PhD in public policy at the University of Haifa, meeting with Putin, or visiting Arab countries on secret missions that she cannot speak about. But in her own community, her public role is limited—for now. Ravitz told me that she believes that one day she will be a Knesset member herself—as part of the very same party whose leader said no ḥaredi women want to run for the Knesset.