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Rabbi Osnat Barzani

Monday, November 30, 2021 (Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh)

Rabbi Barzani (1590–1670), was the first woman rabbi. A renowned Kurdish Jewish woman who lived in Mosul, Iraq her father was the scholar Rabbi Samuel Barzani. He founded several yeshivot (Torah academies) for men and boys. Osnat was Rabbi Barzani’s only child. He taught her Hebrew, Torah, Talmud, Midrash, and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Growing up on the laps of scholars she married one of her father’s best students, Rabbi Jacob Mizrahi, who promised that she wouldn’t do any domestic work and could spend her time as a Torah scholar. After her father’s and husband’s death, she took over the Mosul yeshivah and taught the students, providing them with rabbinic training. Many rabbis of the time called her Tanna’it – a title given to a Talmud scholar, a rare honor for a woman. Her father and husband were not successful fundraisers, leaving her in a state of poverty, however, Rabbi Osnat wrote several letters requesting funds. Despite her financial problems, she successfully ran the yeshivah which produced serious scholars, including her son, whom she sent to Baghdad, where he continued the dynasty of rabbinic scholars. After her death, many Jews made pilgrimages to her grave in Amadiyah (Northern Iraq), where her father is also buried, and where a synagogue she helped save from fire was named in her honor.

On this second night of Chanukah, I am inspired by the light of Rabbi Osnat Barzani’s resilience and courage. I highly recommend the children’s picture book Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Sigal Samuel and Vali Mintzi.

Happy Chanukah may your light shine as bright!

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