Chabad rabbis ban yoatzot – saying only men can rule on matters related to menstruation

“One may not rely on the words of irresponsible women of weak mind,” a Chabad proclamation says.

Photo by Shtetl

Apr 26, 2023 12:15 PM


Some Haredi rabbis are insisting that women refrain from seeking guidance about Jewish laws related to menstruation and sex from other women, including yoatzot, counselors who are trained to answer such questions.

In a proclamation obtained and verified by Shtetl, the Chabad Beth Din of Crown Heights urges community members not to work with yoatzot, and instead take their questions about taharat hamishpacha, Jewish laws of family purity, only to male rabbis. The document was seen on a sealed official bulletin board at the Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where it was up for at least one month.

In the document, translated from Hebrew by Shtetl, Rabbis Avraham Azdaba and Yosef Yeshaya Braun say they’ve received “a number of inquiries” about yoatzot. “One may not rely on the words of irresponsible women of weak mind, the so-called Yoatzot (and by whatever other name they may be known), on any halakhic matter, and they should not be consulted at all,” the letter says.

Proclamation by Chabad Beth Din. Seen in Chabad Headquarters. Photo by shtetl.

Under a strict reading of Jewish law, a woman is forbidden to have sex while she is a niddah. A woman is a niddah when she is menstruating, for seven days after the end of her period, and then until she has immersed herself in a mikveh. Other situations may also cause a woman to become a niddah, such as hymen bleeding. When a Haredi woman is unsure of her niddah status, she – or her husband – can give her stained underwear, or a separate cloth called a bedikah cloth, to a male rabbi for him to evaluate according to complicated Jewish laws.

Based on factors such as color and size of the stain, the rabbi can determine when the couple can have sex again. Some Haredi communities have dropboxes where couples can place the underwear or cloth; these boxes provide some privacy while accommodating rabbis’ busy schedules.

Some interviewed by Shtetl said they viewed these traditions as a normal part of everyday life and don’t think asking male rabbis sensitive questions is always uncomfortable. But others endorsed innovations that have, in recent years, allowed women to follow Jewish law in a way they find more comfortable.

In a blog post, Miriam Levy-Haim, an adviser at Yeshiva University who grew up Chabad in Crown Heights, wrote that the anti-yoatzot letter denigrated women’s scholarship and caused “deep pain” to women in the community.

“Every aspect of the mitzvah of taharas hamishpacha, indeed many elements of the daily functioning of a kosher Jewish home, depends on the knowledge, intelligence, discretion, good judgment, and integrity of Jewish women,” she wrote. “Does Rabbi Braun mean to suggest that women are not reliable? That women are incapable, incompetent, and less than worthy of respect?”

Chabad, known for being more open than other Hasidic sects, appears to be unique in the Hasidic community for publicly grappling with the subject of yoatzot at all.

Nishmat, an Israeli-based organization dedicated to women’s higher religious learning, started a yoetzet training program in 1997. The two-year certification program includes an in-depth study of niddah with supplementary studies of women’s medicine and halacha. At first, it only answered people’s questions over the phone or online. Now, some Modern Orthodox synagogues have a yoetzet on staff.

Nishmat opened a U.S. branch in 2011. Atara Eis, a yoetzet who leads the U.S. branch, told Shtetl there are 21 yoatzot employed in communities in the U.S., with more who are not officially employed. Eis said this number has increased consistently since 2011.

Nishmat-certified yoatzot. Photo courtesy of Nishmat

Eis said yoatzot are careful not to pasken, or make a halachic ruling; this would infringe on rabbis’ domain. Instead, yoatzot study halachic rulings that have been made in the past, and advise accordingly. “We do not pasken,” Eis said. “Women who study in our program are learned. But they are not given permission to pasken. Our yoatzot turn to rabbis if there’s ever anything that requires psak.”

“I’ve seen situations where if you don’t know what the latest contraceptive option is, and a woman is given permission to use contraception but then she’s not given the right halachic guidance because there’s not an understanding of what is going on medically to her body, we have a problem,” Eis said. “We’re here to stop women’s suffering. That’s why we exist. It’s not to make waves. It’s not to change the role of women. None of that.”

Devorah Backman, who lived in the Chabad Crown Heights community for years, said she views yoatzot as a positive development and was disappointed when she saw the rabbis’ letter. “I’ve been married for ten years, and I found the idea of involving a rabbi in very personal parts of my intimate life to be extremely bothersome. I remember telling my kallah teacher, when I first learned about it, ‘I’m not going to do this,’” said Backman, who has also written for Shtetl.

Even some men are critical of the rabbi-centric system. A member of the Jerusalem Chabad community, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his family ties, said that when he was married, he had such an unpleasant experience with a rabbi that he decided never to observe taharat hamishpacha again.

“I went to the local Chabad rabbi,” the man said. “He was on the phone talking to somebody else, and he took the cloth from me in a rough manner. While remaining on the phone, he nonchalantly gave it back to me and said it’s OK. It just felt extremely creepy and weird.”

“So after that, I never went back,” he said. “I would just lie to my then-wife. Sometimes I would say, ‘he said it’s OK.’ Sometimes I would say, ‘I have to go back.’ I just lied.”

Even under Haredi Jews’ strict reading of Jewish law, women have some role in helping other women follow Jewish laws related to marriage. For example, before women get married, they attend classes with a female kallah teacher who gives them advice about married life, such as how to handle conflicts, what to expect the first time they have sex, and how to comply with taharat hamishpacha. 

There are other ways women can be involved, too. Women may also consult a bodeket, a woman who examines a woman’s vagina when the woman wants to clarify whether her blood is menstrual blood or blood from an open wound, in which case it does not disqualify her from having sex under Jewish law., a website and period tracking app that helps couples observe taharat hamishpacha, has the support of Haredi rabbis. “They’re not necessarily going to write a letter endorsing it, but they will tell people to use it,” said Rivkah Bloom, a Chabad-leaning programmer who founded the app in 2009.  

The Mikveh app has settings for traditions that are Chabad, Satmar, Bukharian, and more; it’s available in English, Hebrew, and other languages. Bloom said it has about 100,000 users. The website contains referrals to under its lists of family resources and frequently asked questions.

Chabad’s recent letter on yoatzot wasn’t its first niddah-related controversy. In 2017, COLlive, a website covering the Crown Heights Chabad community, reported that four Chabad rabbis came out against an app where women could send pictures of their underwear or cloth for male rabbis to inspect, so that the rabbis did not actually touch the cloth.

“Any Rav who had even just begun to get the required training in checking bedikah cloths etc. knows how the cloth needs to be turned and tilted, sometimes stretched etc., to enable an accurate view,” a Chabad rabbi wrote in a public letter rejecting the app, according to the COLlive report.

Some people interviewed said the traditional way of asking niddah questions can be uncomfortable, but isn’t as uncomfortable as some outside the community might imagine.

“It was just part of life,” said David, a former member of the Satmar Hasidic community in Kiryas Joel. He requested that his last name not be included.

A woman who grew up in a yeshivish community said she switched a few years ago from only asking rabbis niddah-related questions to mostly asking yoatzot. But she still asks rabbis questions, too. “I’m not so uncomfortable asking male rabbis questions, but there was a time that I was, and it depends on the question,” the woman, who now identifies as Modern Orthodox, said. She asked to remain anonymous to protect her relationships in the Haredi world.

“Some things I don’t care that much, like if it’s a technical niddah question, but if it’s something about sex, I don’t ask a rabbi that question,” she said. “When it comes to that, I want to speak to a woman.”


Are you a Haredi yoetzet, or a Haredi woman who works with a yoetzet? If you’d like to talk with Shtetl about your experience, contact reporter Lauren Hakimi at

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.