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Adina Bar-Shalom

b. January 5, 1945

by Anat Feldman
Last updated June 23, 2021

Israeli Haredi leader Adina Bar-Shalom, 2001.

In Brief

Adina Bar-Shalom is the oldest daughter of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (the chair of the Council of Sages of the Shas movement and the head of the party as its spiritual and political leader until his death in 2013) and his wife Margalit. Bar-Shalom defines herself as a Haredi woman. She has, however, broken through the frameworks of Israeli Haredi society. She has participated in many social fora and seeks to use her public activities to build a bridge between Haredim and the secular. For that, she has been severely criticized by Ashkenazi Haredi society and the leadership of the Shas party.

Family

Adina Bar-Shalom was born in Jerusalem on January 5, 1945, the first-born daughter of Margalit and Ovadiah Yosef. Margalit was born in Aleppo, where she studied in the Alliance Israélite Universelle school, but after her mother died when she was eight, she moved with her father to Jerusalem, where she did not study within any educational framework. 

Adina's father Ovadiah was born in Baghdad and migrated to Jerusalem with his family when he was three years old. Ovadiah was a brilliant yeshiva student from a poor family. When he concluded his rabbinical studies, he had difficulty finding a position where he could support his family, which eventually grew to include eleven children. When he was offered the position of deputy chief rabbi of Egypt in 1947, the family migrated to Cairo, where Adina lived between the ages of three and six, when the family returned to Israel. Although Rabbi Yosef received the Israel Prize for Torah Culture, the family wandered from city to city, wherever he was offered a rabbinical position. From 1970 to 1973 he served as the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv–Jaffa. From 1973 to 1983 he served as the chief Descendants of the Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal before the explusion of 1492; primarily Jews of N. Africa, Italy, the Middle East and the Balkans.Sephardi rabbi of Israel. After he left that position, he helped to establish the national Shas movement, which first ran for the Lit. "assembly." The 120-member parliament of the State of Israel.Knesset in 1984. Rabbi Yosef served as chair of the Shas movement’s Council of Sages of the Shas and stood at the head of the party as its spiritual and political leader until his death in 2013. His son, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, was chosen as the chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel in 2013. Another son, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, has served as the chief Sephardi rabbi of Holon for many years. A third son, Rabbi David Yosef, joined the Shas Council of Torah Sages.

Education and Marriage

Until eighth grade, Bar-Shalom’s education was within the An ultra-Orthodox Jewharedi “Bais Yaakov” educational network. As was the case of most Sephardi girls, she was not allowed to continue on to high school. The Haredi Bais Yaakov system was controlled by Jews of European origin and their descendants, including most of North and South American Jewry.Ashkenazim and often discriminated against Sephardi girls, allowing only Jews of European origin and their descendants, including most of North and South American Jewry.Ashkenazi girls to go to high school and obtain academic teachers' certificates. Bar Shalom’s parents sent her instead to the Haredi Beit Yaa’kov vocational school, where she studied sewing and attained a vocational teacher's certificate. When she was eighteen, she married Ezra Bar-Shalon (b. 1941), a Talmud student who became a rabbi and a rabbinical court judge. Rabbi Bar-Shalom served as the chief judge in the Tel Aviv rabbinical court for many years, then in the High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. He is now retired.

After her marriage, Adina Bar-Shalom taught sewing and opened a salon for brides, which she ran for several years. In 1975 she started a two-year course for fashion design at Shenkar College, at a time when Shenkar did not grant an academic degree. Bar-Shalom wanted to study psychology, but her father and husband opposed her attending a university. She achieved her goal 30 years later, through the introduction of the degree in psychology in the Jerusalem Haredi College that she established and administered.

Adina and Ezra Bar-Shalom have three children: Rabbi Ben-Zion Bar-Shalom (b. 1963); Hannah Shimoni (b. 1965), who has an academic degree in nursing from Tel-Aviv University and a Masters degree in administration and conflict resolution from Ben-Gurion University; and Margalit Dwaik (b. 1977). They have lived for four decades in a secular environment in Tel Aviv.

Expanding the Boundaries for Haredi Women

Adina Bar-Shalom defines herself as a Haredi woman, who accepts and validates a world in which married men learn Torah for many years. She has, however, broken from the Haredi framework that views women through the prism of Talmudic law and the dictum "All the honor of a king's daughter is inward," which confines women to the home and prevents them from attaining education and employment outside the home. 

Beginning in the 2000s, Bar-Shalom became involved in and initiated cultural, public, and political activities in conjunction with secular organizations and activists. As a Haredi woman activist in secular society, she is a unique figure. She has participated in many social fora and been a sought-after lecturer on subjects dealing with Haredi society, especially Haredi women, their education and work, and their integration into Israeli society. The secular media soon “discovered” Bar-Shalom. She represented for secular Israeli society the modern Haredi women. She seeks to use her public activities to bridge the gulf between Haredim and secular Jews. For that, she has been severely criticized by Ashkenazi Haredi society, as well as by groups more closely associated with her—the Sephardi Haredim and the leadership of the Shas party; opposition, while often behind the scenes, was widespread. Her family, however, came to accept her work.

Bar-Shalom’s first efforts focused on providing academic opportunities for Haredi women. In Israel, an academic degree is necessary for earning a good salary, and since many Haredi men study rather than work, women are the economic providers for their families. Beginning in 2000, Bar-Shalom established and administered the Jerusalem Haredi College, whose goal was to provide academic education and degrees for Haredi women. Several years later, she opened a program for Haredi men. The college was the first Haredi academic framework in Israel that enabled gender separation and provided equivalent academic training for men and women. Bar-Shalom won acceptance for this endeavor from her father; without Rabbi Yosef’s approval, Haredi students would not have attended the College. In 2017, the school closed for fiscal reasons.

Bar-Shalom regularly speaks about the importance of women's education and work, and in 2013 she supported a women's-only political party in the Haredi town of El'ad. She argued that Haredi women are much more open than men and take much more interest in the wider world. For her political views, Rabbi David Benizri, a prominent Shas supporter, called her "Reform daughter, the accursed wicked woman,” adding “Bitter will be her day of judgment, bitter will be her day of reproach.” Among many of Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox, “Reform” is considered a strong insult. Bar-Shalom sued him, saying he had defamed her with his comments. The court awarded her compensation of NIS 20,000 ($5,600). 

Bar-Shalom has also been criticized by Ultra-Orthodox society for her stance on “kosher bus lines,” or sex-segregated buses. In an academic gathering, she argued that "the exclusion of women from the public domain is not the way things should be as Halacha treats women with the utmost respect."  

Bar-Shalom has also taken controversial positions on Israeli Palestinian relations. She supports a two-state solution, believing it would be helpful for both Israel and the Palestinians. She met twice with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority), and said that Palestinians would stop the violence if they had their own state. She even signed a petition calling for withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the creation of a Palestinian state generally following the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. 

Public and Political Activities

In 2018, Bar-Shalom established the Achei Yisraeli (Brethren of Israel) party before the April 2019 elections for the 21st Knesset. The party platform focused on social and civil matters and was intended to unite Haredi and secular Jews. In press interviews around the election, she stated “I want to prove that a Haredi woman can lead. It flows in my veins, I got it from my father” and “I am not a feminist. I am a go-getter.” Although she dropped out of the race a month before the elections and dismantled the party, simply by running she achieved new power as a Haredi woman.

Among Bar-Shalom’s many other public and political activities are:

  • 2001: Member of the Yahad (Together) Council, The Council for National Agreement.
  • 2001-2003: Member of the Besod Siach (Secret Discourse) Council, a non-profit organization for dialogue between groups in conflict in Israeli society.
  • 2001-2005: Member of the Forum for National Responsibility.
  • 2004: Member of the Administrative Board of the Center for the Fostering of Entrepreneurship in Jerusalem. 
  • From 2005: Member of the Ministry of Education's Association for the Advancement of Education.
  • 2008: Member of Ashoka, an International Organization for Social Entrepreneurship. 
  • From 2010: Member of the Administrative Board of The Center for the Research of Jewish heritage in Yad Ben-Zvi.
  • From 2010: Member of the public non-profit organization The Center for Fostering Entrepreneurship. 
  • 2011: Member of the Discussion Team established following social unrest in the summer of 2011.
  • From 2013: Member of the advisory council of the national lottery.
  • 2014: Chair of Shas Party's Women's Council, established to advise party chair Aryeh Dery. When the council failed to meet, she resigned and announced she no longer saw herself as a member of the Shas Party. She also claimed Shas was not following the moderate Haredi path her father, who had helped to establish the party, had advocated.
  • From 2017: Member of Momentum, The Council for Strengthening Jewish Identity of American Mothers.
  • From 2017: Member of the non-profit organization Natal (Treatment for Trauma Victims).

Awards and Honors

2010: Chosen by the economics newspaper The Marker among a list of personalities who had a positive influence on Israeli society.

2012: Medal of the Knight of Quality Government from the Movement for Quality of Government.

2012: Honorary Colleague of Ruppin College.

2012: Honorary Colleague of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

2013: Chosen by the rightist-religious newspaper Makor Rishon as one of the twenty most influential Haredi women.

2013: Honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.

2014: Chosen by Forbes Magazine as one of of the 50 most influential Jews in the world.

2014: "Israel Prize for Life's Work" for her special contribution to the country and society.

2014: Chosen to light a torch on the 66th Independence Day of the State of Israel.

Bibliography

“Adina Bar-Shalom to receive Israel Prize, The Jerusalem Post.” https://www.jpost.com/National-News/Adina-Bar-Shalom-to-receive-Israel-… 

“Adina Bar-Shalom Supports Women’s List in Elad Race.” The Yeshiva World, October 20, 2013. https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/israel-news/193330/video-adina-bar…

Feldman, A. “Women professionalization: The Shas movement towards a new social political worldview.” Politika, 16 (2007): 93-115. (Hebrew)

Feldman, A. “The role of Haredi women leaders according to Shas party.” Research of the Haredi Society, 4 (2017): 81-103. (Hebrew)

Feldman, A. (2020). “Education and Employment among Ultra-Orthodox Women in Israel: Modernity and Conservatism—The Case of the Shas Party.” Contemporary Jewry 39, No. 3 (2020): 451-472.

“Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s leftist daughter, Adina Bar Shalom, talks about meeting Mahmoud Abbas.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, May 9, 2011. https://www.jta.org/2011/05/09/israel/rabbi-ovadia-yosefs-leftist-daugh…

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How to cite this page

Feldman, Anat. "Adina Bar-Shalom." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 23 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 27, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/bar-shalom-adina>.