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World’s 1st female rabbi led a 16th century Mosul yeshiva for Kurdish Jewry

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31.01.2021

As she grew up, Sigal Samuel secretly dreamed of becoming a rabbi. Instead, she became a journalist and author.

“My family is Iraqi on my father’s side, my mother’s family is Moroccan, and I grew up in Montreal’s Orthodox Jewish community. I just couldn’t imagine becoming a rabbi as an option,” Samuel said.

“The only women rabbis I saw were Ashkenazi and from the Reform and Conservative movements. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” she said.

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So, when Samuel recently discovered that the woman widely considered to be the first female rabbi in history was from the Middle East, she was amazed and thrilled. Her name was Osnat (alternately Asnat or Asenath) Barazani, and she lived in Mosul, Iraq, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. ‘Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi’ written by Sigal Samuel and illustrated by Vali Mintzi (Levine Querido)

The daughter of Rabbi Shmuel ben Netanel Ha-Levi of Kurdistan, who had no sons, Osnat was trained to be a learned scholar of Jewish sacred texts and mysticism. She married Rabbi Jacob Mizrahi, one of the best students at her father’s yeshiva, and helped him run the school after her father died. In fact, Osnat did most of the teaching while her husband focused on his own studies.

After Jacob died, Osnat made a smooth transition to becoming the head of the yeshiva, splitting her time between teaching and making desperate attempts at fundraising to keep the institution afloat. In time, Osnat’s son Samuel became an outstanding scholar and was sent by his mother to Baghdad to run a yeshiva there. Osnat herself is remembered within the Jewish and general Kurdish communities as a great leader, teacher and mystical miracle worker.

Samuel, staff writer at Vox and former religion editor at The Atlantic, is intent on sharing Osnat Barazani’s story with the next generation. She does this with a new children’s picture book titled, “Osnat and Her Dove,” which will be published on February 2 by Levine Querido, the new publishing........

© The Times of Israel


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