Haredi Men Address Women's Medicine Meet

Hundreds of religious and ultra-Orthodox men thronged to lectures on woman's sexuality, fertility, menstruation and birth control in Jerusalem yesterday in the "Innovations in Women's Medicine" conference.

All the lecturers were men while the women, who also came in the hundreds, had to sit behind a barrier in the ninth annual conference held by the Puha Institute, dedicated to women's medical and halakhic issues.

The lectures dealt with such issues as whether to recommend cervical cancer vaccination for young women or to allow "older" single women in their mid-thirties to freeze eggs to preserve their chances of having children.

Conference organizer Rabbi Benjamin David said he was aware that having all male lecturers address such sensitive issues was drawing fire from religious circles.

"First, we don't think that we are not sensitive," he said. "These are very professional halakhic issues and the lecturers are first-rate experts. Second, it's a matter of modesty. We are a very open institute but we have our limits and we don't think it proper for a woman to stand on the stage and address 1,000 people."

Separating between the genders at the conference as well as the intensive occupation with woman's sexual issues indicate openness, not radicalization, he said.

"We put things on the table. It shows openness, contrary to the stigmas on the religious public," he said.

One of the lectures turned his focus to whether to recommend the vaccine preventing cervical cancer to young women and teenage girls.

Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, one of the leading religious Zionism rabbis, ruled against recommending the vaccine.