Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Ouziel

May 23, 1880–September 4, 1953

by Ariel Picard
Last updated

In Brief

Rabbi Ben-Zion Hai Ouziel was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1939 to 1953. Ouziel believed, even in the early twentieth century, that women could vote and be elected, serve as judges, and use birth control for health reasons. He proposed a halakhic regulation enabling daughters to inherit, as do sons, as well as a marriage formula (also to be written in the ketubbah) that would prevent women from becoming agunot (“chained”).


Rabbi Ben-Zion Hai Ouziel was born in Jerusalem on May 23, 1880, the son of R. Joseph Raphael Ouziel, the head of the rabbinical court of the 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.Sephardic community in the city. In 1911 he was appointed rabbi of the Sephardic community in Jaffa, but due to his activity on behalf of persecuted Jews he was sent into exile by the Turkish government during World War I. In 1921 he became the chief rabbi of Salonika, where he served for three years before returning to Palestine in 1923 to assume the position of chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. In 1939 he was appointed Chief Rabbi of The Land of IsraelErez Israel, a position he occupied until his death in Jerusalem on September 4, 1953.

Ouziel’s election as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi (the Rishon le-Zion) carried a concurrent appointment to the Va’ad Le’ummi (National Council of Jews of Palestine), and he participated in the sessions in which the Jewish Agency was founded. He represented the Jewish community at the United Nations a number of times during the British Mandatory period and was one of the main witnesses called to testify before the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry in 1946, whose conclusions paved the way for the United Nations resolution providing for the establishment of the State of Israel. Ouziel wrote extensively on religious, communal, and national subjects, as well as Jewish philosophy; his articles appeared in several newspapers and journals. His writings include the Mishpetei Ouziel Halakhic decisions written by rabbinic authories in response to questions posed to them.responsa; Mikhmannei Ouziel, a collection of sermons; and Hegyonei Ouziel, on Jewish philosophy.

What follows are some of his most important decisions regarding women and their religious and civil roles.

Woman as a Dayyan

A woman may act as a Judge in Jewish law cases; member of a rabbinic court.dayyan (rabbinical judge) if so accepted by the public. A formal regulation to this effect, however, should not be promulgated, because women are responsible for the household and the care and education of children; additionally, Ouziel argued that women are extremely merciful and exhibit great sensitivity, which may result in the rendering of improper judgments (Mishpetei Ouziel, Hoshen Mishpat [1940 ed.], para. 5).

Participation in Elections

Women may cast their vote for public institutions:

"[Are women] not creatures that were created in the image [of God] and with intelligence? Do they not have common interests related to the elected assembly, or the council that it elects, whose regulations they heed as regards their property and the education of their sons and daughters?"

Women may also be elected to public posts, since the elections reflect the decision by the public to accept the authority of the men and women so elected (Mishpetei Ouziel, Hoshen Mishpat [1940 ed.], para. 6).

"Do Not Engage in Much Talk with a Woman"

While Ouziel, like many traditional rabbis, worried about sexual transgressions resulting from mixed-gender conversations, he believed men and women could speak readily on weighty matters. "Logic dictates that no serious convocation or useful conversation involves sexual license, and every day men meet with women for commercial transactions, and engage in negotiations; nonetheless, there is no breach and no wailing [see Ps. 144:14]. And even the most licentious in sexual matters would not think of forbidden matters while seriously engaging in commerce. When our Rabbis said ‘Do not engage in much talk with a woman’ [Mishnah Avot 1:5], they referred only to idle conversation; it is such a conversation that results in iniquity, but not a discussion on important or public matters. Nor does sitting together for the sake of public work, which is a sacred endeavor, accustom [those present] to sin, or lead to frivolity. All Israel, men and women, are holy and are not suspect of breaching the bounds of modesty and morals".

(Mishpetei Ouziel, Hoshen Mishpat [1940 ed.], para. 6)

Women and Positive Timebound Commandments

According to Rabbenu Tam, women recite a blessing over the performance of positive timebound commandments. Regarding the reason for the exemption of women from such obligations, Ouziel wrote:

"It seems to me that the reason for their exemption is because, due to their nature and the essence of their role in life, they are enslaved to time in maintaining the household and in raising and caring for children, and time is not at their disposal. [...] For these reasons, it transpires that women are within the entire House of Israel as regards the fundamental essence of all the commandments. The Torah she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)Torah, however, exempted them, as they possess the standing of one who is engaged in the performance of [another] commandment [and is therefore exempt from other commandments]. Consequently, one who acts in accordance with Rabbenu Tam has acted properly, and this does not constitute a blessing recited in vain."

(Mishpetei Ouziel, vol. 4, “General Matters” [1940 ed.], para. 4)

The Immersion of a Female Convert Not in the Presence of the Court

Regarding female conversion, Ouziel allowed for female witnesses when it was impossible for male judges to enter the place of conversion: "In a locality where the judges cannot enter the immersion chamber (such as Salonika, where the ritual bath was situated in the women’s bathhouse), a female convert may immerse in the presence of three women, who are the agents of the court, after having accepted the yoke of the commandments [i.e., before the members of the court] outside the ritual bath."

 (Mishpetei Ouziel, Even ha-Ezer [1935 ed.], para. 13).

The Recitation of Kaddish

Traditionally, only sons recited the Lit. (Aramaic) "holy." Doxology, mostly in Aramaic, recited at the close of sections of the prayer service. The mourner's Kaddish is recited at prescribed times by one who has lost an immediate family member. The prayer traditionally requires the presence of ten adult males.Kaddish for a deceased parent, and Ouziel agreed with this practice. "Even if the deceased left no sons, his daughters may not recite Kaddish, because the Kaddish is related for the sanctification of the Lord [kiddush ha-Shem] by ten men in Israel, as it is said, ‘that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people’ (Lev. 22:32, which the Lit. "teaching," "study," or "learning." A compilation of the commentary and discussions of the amora'im on the Mishnah. When not specified, "Talmud" refers to the Babylonian Talmud.Talmud understands as referring to a quorum of ten men). Daughters provide merit for their fathers with the acts of charity and lovingkindness that they perform."

 (Mishpetei Ouziel, Orah Hayyim [1947 ed.], para. 13).

Birth Control and Abortions

A woman who is prohibited from becoming pregnant for health reasons may introduce into her body a substance or device that will prevent the absorption of the semen, and her husband may engage in relations with her without this constituting the wasteful emission of semen (Mishpetei Ouziel, Orah Hayyim [1938 ed.], para. 43; [1964 ed.]. para. 51).

A woman may initiate an abortion if the birth will cause her harm; for example, if she were liable to go deaf as a result of giving birth (Mishpetei Ouziel, Hoshen Mishpat [1940 ed.], para. 46).

A fetus that is a Lit. "bastard." Offspring of a relationship forbidden in the Torah, e.g., between a married woman and a man other than her husband or by incest.mamzer  (the issue of a union that can never be licit) may be aborted, but not the fetus of an unmarried woman that is not a mamzer (ibid., para. 47).

Regulations to Improve Women's Halakhic Standing

In 1944 the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, Ouziel and Isaac Herzog (1888–1959), enacted a regulation obligating the brother-in-law to pay alimony to his The widow of a childless man whose brother (yavam or levir) is obligated to marry her to perpetuate the brother's name (Deut. 25:5yevamah (the widow of his childless brother) if he refuses to undergo Mandated ceremony (Deut. 25:9halizah (release from Marriage between a widow whose husband died childless (the yevamah) and the brother of the deceased (the yavam or levir).yibbum [levirate marriage]). They also revised the sum of the ketubah (marriage contract ensuring the wife’s financial rights) so that it would correspond to the current economic reality.

In 1950 Rabbis Herzog and Ouziel initiated regulations prohibiting the marriage of minor girls (under the age of sixteen), bigamy (i.e., extending the ban to all Jewish communities), and the requirement to perform halizah, and not yibbum. These regulations were passed by the Chief Rabbinate Council and, in order to give them binding force, were defined as “herem Yerushalayim” (paralleling herem de-Rabbenu Gershom, the ban on bigamy for Ashkenazim) (Herzog 1989, vol. 3: 168–169).

Proposed Regulation Regarding Female Inheritance

In 1952 R. Ouziel proposed a halakhic regulation enabling daughters to inherit, as do sons, but the Chief Rabbinate did not accept the change (Ouziel 1952–1953).

The Agunot Regulation

In 1935 R. Ouziel suggested the enactment of a stipulation in the standard marriage formula (also to be written in the ketubbah) that would prevent women from becoming Woman who cannot remarry, either because her husband cannot or will not give her a divorce (get) or because, in his absence, it is unknown whether he is still alive.agunot (“chained” women unable to remarry, because of uncertainty concerning the husband’s death, or his refusal to grant a divorce). The bridegroom, according to this proposal, would recite:

"Behold, you are betrothed to me with this ring, in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel, as long as no protest is raised, during my lifetime or after my death, by the [rabbinical] Court in this city, with the consent of the district or national Court, and upon the decision of the Council and President of the Chief Rabbinate of Knesset Yisrael in Jerusalem, for the necessary reason of iggun."

(Mishpetei Ouziel, Even ha-Ezer [1938 ed.], para. 45).

Under the circumstances of iggun (the state of being an agunah), the court would be empowered to annul such a marriage, so that the wife would be allowed to remarry. R. Ouziel added the requirement that his suggestion receive the approval of many rabbis and large Jewish communities. Since this consent was not given, the proposal was shelved.


Angel, Marc D. Loving Truth and Peace. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1999, chap. 8.

Ellenson, David Harry. “Gender, Halakhah, and Women’s Suffrage; Responsa of the First Three Chief Rabbis on the Public Role of Women in the Jewish State.” Gender Issues in Jewish Law (2001): 58-81.

Sat, Naama. "‘Mishum Iguna Akilu bah Rabanan’: Rabbi Uziel and the Relaxation of Law in Favor of ‘Chained’ Wives." In Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel : thinker, halakhist, leader, edited by Zvi Zohar, Amihai Radzyner, Elimelech Westreich, Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 2020, pp. 233-264 [Hebrew].

Picard, Ariel. Halakhah in a New World: Rabbinic Discourse in Modern Society, Jerusalem: Keter and Shalom Hartman Institute, 2012, Ch. 2 [Hebrew].

Herzog, Isaac. Constitution and Law in a Jewish State according to the Halakha, vol. 3: Constitution, Laws, and Enactments of the Chief Rabbinate Jerusalem: 1989 [Hebrew].

Ouziel, Ben-Zion Meir Hai. Hegyonei Ouziel. Jerusalem: 1953.

Ouziel, Ben-Zion Meir Hai. “Law of Inheritance of Daughters.”. Talpioth 5,3–4 (1952): 451–474; 6,1–2 (1953): 51–64 [Hebrew].

Ouziel, Ben-Zion Meir Hai. Mikhmannei Ouziel. Tel Aviv: 1939.

Ouziel, Ben-Zion Meir Hai. She’eilot u-Teshuvot Mishpetei Ouziel. Jerusalem: 1935–1964.

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How to cite this page

Picard, Ariel. "Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Ouziel." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 23 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 19, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/ouziel-rabbi-ben-zion-meir-hai>.