Matthew Wagner, THE JERUSALEM POST Oct. 26, 2006
Pnina Peli, considered by many as the founder of Orthodox feminism, passed away in Jerusalem on Thursday morning at the age of 74. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a year ago.
Peli was born in New York. Her father, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Cohen, a member of a veteran Jerusalem family, had been forced to emigrate by a famine.
In her youth she was active in Hashomer Hadati, an American religious Zionist youth movement. After marrying a cousin, Rabbi Pinchas Peli, she changed her first name from Rebecca to Pnina in accordance with the Jewish custom that bride and mother-in-law not share the same name.
The Pelis immigrated to Israel in the early 1970s and Pnina started a women’s prayer group in her home, a revolutionary idea at the time. She used her own Torah scroll, and the women were allowed to read from it. Women also danced with the scroll on Simhat Torah.
The prayer group led to the establishment of the Yedidya congregation in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood in 1979.
"Pnina believed that freeing Orthodox women from discrimination was essential to the redemption of the Jewish people," said MK Benny Elon (National Union), Peli’s son-in-law. "She was involved in Orthodox feminism at a time when it was really not popular. She was very brave."
Peli was also active in working for solutions to the problems of agunot, Jewish women unable to remarry because of their husbands’ unwillingness to agree to a divorce. In 1986, Peli organized the first conference on feminism and Orthodoxy, "The Woman and Judaism, The Woman and Halacha." It was attended by representatives of Jewish organizations from all over the world.
Pnina and Pinchas founded Shevet Yachad, an organization to encourage religious and secular Jews to spend a Shabbat together.
Pnina was also active in the Temple Mount Faithful, which fights for a Jewish presence on the site of the first and second temples.
Peli leaves behind four children: Emuna Elon, wife of the MK, Bitcha Har-Shefi, De’uel Peli and Bat Sheva Peli-Sari.
One of her granddaughters, Margolit Har-Shefi, was the only female detained in connection with the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.