CWJ to Supreme Court: Include at Least Four Women on Committee for Appointing Rabbinic Judges
With the aim of correcting an injustice that stifled women’s voices in appointing judges (dayanim) for Israel’s religious courts this year, the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has petitioned the Supreme Court to rule that the Committee for Appointing Rabbinic Court Judges must include at least four women.
Because dayanim have sole jurisdiction on matters relating to marriage and divorce, it is essential that women - who are most at risk for being adversely affected by the discriminatory decisions of fundamentalist rabbinic judges –have a meaningful role in the selection process.
CWJ filed the petition on January 31, 2012, joined by the Israel Women’s Network, Kolech, the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status, Mavoi Satum, the Hiddush Movement for Freedom of Religion in Israel, the Yerushalmim Movement for a Pluralistic Jerusalem and the GRANIT Association.
As set down by Israeli law in 1955, the appointment committee consists of 10 representatives from various governmental, religious and professional entities. Four places are reserved for men only – two for the chief rabbis and two for dayanim. The law does not mandate places for women.
In November, the Israeli Bar Association selected its representatives, completing the process of assembling the current committee. The resulting committee did not include any women. In response, Emunah, the national religious women’s movement, filed a petition demanding that the committee include women, without relating to a specific number of women. This would make it possible for the Knesset and the Israeli Bar Association to choose just one woman. A Supreme Court deliberation in January raised the possibility of adding an 11th member - a woman - to the committee; another bill under consideration in the Knesset would reserve two places on the committee for women.
CWJ’s petition states that the requirement to reserve four places for men without a similar number for women is a serious affront to justice and equality. “This practice contradicts the State’s commitment, under international law, to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women,” says attorney Susan Weiss, director of CWJ. “It also contradicts the 1951 Equal Rights Law, which mandates adequate representation of women in public bodies.”
In order to balance the inherent inequality of the Committee to Appoint Rabbinic Judges, Weiss continued, it is not enough to settle for one female representative. “Symbolic representation is not enough,” she insists. “There must be at least four women on the committee. This situation is a disgrace to justice in Israel and demands immediate change.”
The Center for Women’s Justice is a legal advocacy organization leading the struggle for dignity and justice for women in Jewish law. CWJ places moral and religious dilemmas relating to women on the public agenda, including aguna, get refusal, conversion and mamzer, and promotes comprehensive halachic and legal solutions to these issues.
Read here (Ha'Aretz article) about CWJ’s latest steps toward achieving democratic rights and dignity for women in Israel’s religious establishment.
Family Court rules divorce recalcitrant must pay high compensatory damages to wife with whom he has not cohabited since 2002. 'Refusing to grant a get violates the values protected by Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom,' says judge
Published 10/10/11 on Ynet English News
by Rivkah Lubitch
The Rishon Lezion Family Court recently awarded compensation in the amount of NIS 680,000 (about $182,850) to a woman whose husband has chained her to an unwanted marriage for years, and even today still refuses to divorce her.
In a lawsuit filed on her behalf in 2002 with the Rabbinic Court, the wife, Hannah (not her real name), cited her husband’s extreme physical abuse and abandonment as the reason she sought a divorce.
The husband would punch her, slam her head against the wall and the furniture, and throw objects at her. In addition, he cursed and swore at her and the children. He moved out of the marital bed in 1999 and moved out of their home in 2002.
A 2003 Rabbinic Court ruling “recommended” rather than “mandated” the giving of the get (religious divorce). It claimed that Hannah had failed to conclusively prove her husband’s abusive behavior. Still, because she felt repulsed by her husband, it would be a mitzvah (good deed) for her husband to divorce her.
Hannah’s husband, however, stood fast in his refusal to grant the get. This led to a new rabbinic court ruling in 2004 which then “mandated” his giving of the get.
The ruling read, “It is clear that this man’s only motive for continuing to deny his wife a get is revenge and all he wants is to keep her trapped in this marriage. We will not be a party to these actions, and have therefore altered the original decision and now 'mandate' the giving of the get."
Heartened by the 2004 Rabbinic Court decision, Hannah looked forward to starting a new life. Yet, that was not to happen.
Changing tactics, in 2005, Hannah’s husband approached the Rabbinic Court with a new request. He wanted conditions attached to the get. The court agreed and put the 2004 “mandate” decision on hold until it heard the husband’s claim, classifying the husband as “not recalcitrant.”
In 2006, following Hannah’s consent to transfer all property issues to the rabbinical court’s jurisdiction, the court again supported Hannah’s position and gave her husband two weeks to grant a get. But, the husband still refused, making additional demands; this time, regarding child support and his wife’s pension.
In 2007, relating to the husband’s embedded stance, the Rabbinic Court ruled for a second time that the husband is “mandated” to give his wife a get.
"This is a case of entrenched recalcitrance… the Rabbinic Court supports the position of the wife… It is clear that the husband’s intention is to use the divorce as a bargaining chip... We will not allow ourselves to be a party to these actions. Therefore, we rule that the husband is ‘mandated’ to give his wife a get.”
When the get was still not forthcoming, the Rabbinic Court imposed sanctions on the husband, which also had little effect.
Having been separated from her husband for eight years and frustrated by five futile years of litigation in the rabbinic courts, Hannah had little faith in the system and decided to turn to the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) for help.
Yifat Frankenberg, a CWJ attorney, filed a tort claim in family court on Hannah’s behalf, suing Hannah’s husband for compensatory damages.
The Rabbinic Court was extremely unhappy with this turn of events, to say the least. Incensed by this challenge to their authority, in 2009, the court ruled it would only authorize a get if Hannah dropped the tort claim. Otherwise, they would declare any get given a get meuseh (a “coerced” get – a get must be given of the husband’s free will in order for it to be valid).
After over nine years and countless deliberations in the Rabbinic Court, Hannah was in the same place she started in 2002. Although she had received two rulings in her favor stipulating that the husband is mandated to give her a get, both were rescinded – one due to the husband’s insistence on conditioning the get on property and monetary issues and the second because of Hannah’s unwillingness to drop the civil damage suit.
In short – zero progress.
The civil courts on the other hand, in a relatively short time, delivered a decisive judgment for Hannah.
Presiding Judge Esther Stein ruled that the plaintiff (i.e., Hannah) was in the right and for her suffering and anguish all these years, she is due hundreds of thousands of shekels in compensation.
The Court held that "refusal to divorce constitutes a violation of the values protected by the ‘Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom,’ which includes: freedom of choice, the right to self-fulfillment, the right to dignity and equal rights."
Judge Stein added that in this particular case, the husband is morally bound to divorce his wife, given the rabbinic mandates which were only cancelled due to external reasons.
Hanna may never receive her get. But now, she and her six children have a secure roof over their head as her husband’s equity interest in their apartment will be transferred to Hannah’s name. There are honorable judges in Israel after all.
How did rabbinic judges manage to convince us all of new law – that it is possible to cancel conversion? This campaign of intimidation must be stopped
Published: 06.19.11, 07:43 / Israel Jewish Scene
By Rivkah Lubitch
Sarit contacted me a while ago. She told me she had converted a few years ago, married, and has three children. Now she's been separated from her husband for three years, and he's urging her to finalize their divorce.
But she's worried that if she asks a rabbinic court to arrange the get, the judges will cancel her conversion. This would mean, of course, that her children who were born years after her conversion would also be declared not Jewish.
"I said to my husband, 'What do you need the piece of paper for? Let's just each of us go and live our lives without a divorce!'" Sarit told me, almost in tears. "But he insisted on the divorce and doesn't seem to care that this will blacklist our children and prevent them from marrying!"
Sarit even recruited her father-in-law in her support, who like her, was worried that his grandchildren may be put on the blacklist of those who cannot marry (pesulei-hitun). But her husband kept insisting that she agree to a get.
During our conversation, we considered a number of options should the rabbis ask Sarit about her religious observance in the event she did agree to go to court. Sarit suggested the possibility of the "lie."
I told her that I could not support this approach, and besides, I explained to her, it's not so easy to lie and claim that one keeps the Commandments when one does not. It's pretty easy to see through these types of lies.
We suggested that Sarit simply refuse to answer questions posed by the rabbinic judges. "I'll just tell them that I came for a get, and I don't intend to answer questions relating to my lifestyle. What's that got to do with my divorce?"
I explained to her that under the current circumstances, a court may well refuse to arrange the divorce until she responds to its questions. If she wanted to fight for the right to a get without a court inquiring into her personal life, she'd have to be willing to undertake complicated legal proceedings that could consume a lot of time and effort.
Sarit proposed that she ban her children from watching TV or playing on the computer on Shabbat, at least for the coming months, so that she could declare in court: "We do not watch TV or play computer games on Shabbat," without it being a lie. I told her the problems with this sort of presentation.
How did Sarit get her divorce?
After talking for about half an hour, I began to get a completely different picture of Sarit's life. She doesn't drive on Saturday ("my husband and children drive on Shabbat, but I don't"). She lights Shabbat candles regularly and makes a blessing over the Shabbat wine. She recites the ritual blessing to commemorate the end of the Shabbat (havdalah).
What's more, Sarit maintained the laws of family purity during all the years of her marriage until her husband declared, "I'm not touching you anymore." In fact, after her conversion, Sarit lived for several years in religious neighborhoods and took part in the activities of the religious community.
Anyway, it soon became clear that Sarit had not converted for the purpose of marrying, but out of the sincere desire to be closer to the God of Israel, and first met her husband five years after the conversion. Until she married, she kept the Commandments, big and small.
I gave a sigh of relief, and explained to Sarit (who was crying) that there was no reason in the world anyone in any court should even think of canceling her conversion. "But I don't go to synagogue, anymore," Sarit sobbed. "And I don't consult with rabbis," she continued. "Or keep everything that I promised the rabbis I would keep."
I had to do some serious convincing before Sarit internalized that she had kept the Commandments, and still keeps the most important ones to this very day. I assured her, although I knew it was not necessarily true, that there was no chance a court would abrogate her conversion.
So, with the fear of God, Sarit agreed to go to court and arrange for a divorce. In court, the rabbis asked her, "Do you keep the Commandments?" She answered "Yes." "Do you eat kosher?" She answered "Yes." And to the question, "Are you keeping the laws of family purity?" Sarit replied: "Yes. But now I have no husband." Sarit passed the rabbis' test, and her husband gave her a get.
Sarit's story ended well, thanks to a lot of coaching and no little amount of luck. But dozens of other cases end very badly. This scare campaign has to stop, and with it all the relentless digging into the private lives of people by rabbinic judges who sit on the official courts of the State of Israel and collect a salary paid from taxpayer money.
I wonder: How did the rabbinic judges manage to convince us all of a new law – that it is possible to undo a conversion? How did they get the general public to cooperate with them and to hold our breath every time a convert walks into the four wall of a rabbinic court hoping to get out of there a Jew? Two points for the court, 0 points for the people and the Halacha.
Once, women whose husbands refused to grant them a religious divorce had little hope of escaping bad marriages. Today, many are discovering that damages suits can provide a way out
By Ofri Shoval
"I will not forget the day I got my divorce at the rabbinate. I wore pants and a T-shirt, I tied a big kitchen apron and a few more schmatta rags over them and put an Australian cowboy hat on my head. Could anyone say now that I wasn't modest enough? ... I sat in the corridor and waited. At the other end of the corridor sat my [soon-to-be ex-] husband, a yeshiva student with a thick beard and dressed in black. The rabbinical judges couldn't figure out where the woman was from whom he was seeking a divorce, and when they understood the caricature - that it was me - they gave him a look as if to say, 'You fool. You don't want to get divorced from her?'"
17 March 2011, International Agunah Day. The Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) is marking International Agunah by calling on the legislators, judges, and decision-makers of Israel to use all the tools at their disposal to release women from the chains of unwanted marriage.
It is unconscionable that in the year 2011 in the modern State of Israel, women’s basic right of freedom to be unmarried if she so chooses is not supported by the government. CWJ calls for the following solutions:
· Promoting the use of halakhically valid prenuptial agreements in all Jewish marriages in Israel
· Instituting oversight of the Rabbinical Courts in Israel
· Legalizing diverse alternative organizations and institutions in Israel for conducting marriage and divorce
· Removing the absolute authority for marriage and divorce in Israel from the Rabbinical Courts
Moreover, based on the study released this week by ICAR and Kolech illustrating that the general public is not aware that prenuptial agreements are available as a preventive measure, CWJ, a proud member of the ICAR coalition, calls on the government to allocate public funds for an education campaign aimed at promoting the widespread use of prenuptial agreements across Israel.
At CWJ, our hope is that Agunah Day will soon become obsolete.
For more information on CWJ solutions to the agunah problem, go to www.cwj.org.il. Or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
March 15, 2011, Washington, DC — On the occasion of International Agunot Day, March 17, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) today called upon the Knesset to enact divorce reform in Israel that would resolve the legal predicament of women whose husbands refuse to grant a divorce and leave their wives unable to be free of an untenable marriage. NCJW President Linda Slucker and NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman released the following statement:
“As we mark the annual observance of International Agunot Day, we lament the persistence of this serious problem for women in Israel and worldwide. The situation of agunot — women chained to a marriage under Israeli law because their husbands refuse to grant a divorce — is an unconscionable violation of civil and human rights. The Knesset must address this issue by providing a way to end marriages that respects halachic law without compromising the legal equality of women. The ruling last month by a Tel Aviv appeals court that held a man liable for money damages to his estranged wife for his refusal to grant a get is a step in the right direction, but it should not take the pressure of a lawsuit for a woman to obtain her freedom. It should be a matter of right.
“The International Coalition for Agunah Rights (ICAR) calls for the observation of Agunot Day on the Fast of Esther in recognition of her role in saving the entire Jewish community from slaughter, while she herself was locked in an unwanted marriage. Esther’s story embodies the contradiction between women’s contributions to the Jewish community and their inferior legal status in marriage, just as modern day Jewish women contribute to society while they are still relegated to second class status in the divorce process.
“Those women denied a divorce by their husbands when a marriage is otherwise defunct cannot legally establish new relationships. Their husbands may use the denial of a divorce to obtain a more favorable financial settlement in civil court, or they may simply disappear, leaving their wives without recourse and in legal limbo.
“NCJW is proud to be one of 28 member organizations of ICAR fighting to end marriage inequality and to find legal, just, and moral solutions to this unconscionable situation.”
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.
Contact: Emily Alfano
February 11, 2011, 5:23pm
A man withholding a Jewish divorce — known as a get — is liable for money damages to his estranged wife, according to a recent decision handed down by a Tel Aviv appeals court.
The January 31 decision dismissing the husband’s effort to overturn a 700,000-shekel [about $188,000] lower court judgment against him for withholding the get offers hope to other wives chained to dead marriages, according to some agunah activists. Others who advocate for agunot say that the case will have no impact outside of Israel. An agunah is a woman who may not remarry because her estranged husband will not give her a divorce.
The couple at the center of the recent Israeli court decision lived together for just three months after their wedding, and the husband has refused to give his wife a get for all of the intervening 16 years since then.
The new appellate court decision means that, unless Israel’s Supreme Court overturns it, it will serve as a precedent in all family law there, according to the Center for Women’s Justice, the Israeli non-profit that has provided legal counsel to the wife since 2004. The Center was successful in framing the legal issue as a matter of damages for a violation of the wife’s human rights.
The Appellate Court judgment reads, in part:
“This is the first time that an appellate-level court has confirmed a decision of Israeli Family Courts in which Jewish women who suffered from ‘get-abuse,’ trapped in marriages due to the husband’s refusal to give them a Jewish divorce (a “get”), were awarded tort damages as a result of their suffering,” said Susan Weiss, the Center’s founder and executive director, in a press release. “It is also our hope that this case will serve as an important precedent for women all over the world who take the position that religious laws cannot be exploited to abuse them, or used as an excuse to infringe on their basic rights to autonomy and freedom.”
Jewish law requires a divorce to be given by the husband and accepted by the wife. Though there were, of course, husbands in past generations who out of spite refused to give their wives a get, judges on Jewish courts then were more willing than they are today to invoke communal power to forcefully convince the men to move forward. And while there are Jewish religious divorces that go smoothly, withholding a get in order to extract money from the wife’s family or exert pressure on the woman to share custody or give up property has become commonplace. Despite Jewish Orthodox feminist innovator Blu Greenberg’s statement that “When there is rabbinic will, there is a halachic way,” the plight of “chained wives,” or agunot, has proved one of the most intractable of modern Jewish life.
Authorities on Orthodox Jewish law differ on the ways in which a man can be pressured into giving his estranged wife a Jewish divorce, if he can be pressured at all. Rabbi Michael Broyde in an article originally published in the Orthodox journal “Tradition,” wrote:
However, most Orthodox rabbis today are reluctant to exert pressure on a recalcitrant husband.
In online forums, advocates for *agunot” have been discussing how much of an impact the Tel Aviv court decision may have on efforts to free chained women outside of Israel, where civil courts are generally loathe to involve themselves in what they regard as purely religious matters. One lawyer based in Beverly Hills posted on the listserv “Get Link,” “I wish we could use that as precedent in the U.S., but not likely. Unfortunately I tried a very similar case in California in 1994, and lost because the court stated that it is a religious matter with which the California courts cannot be embroiled. I have recently discussed this with some of the current judges, and they all felt the same to be true today.”
A lawyer in England posted that she didn’t think it would be useful there, either. “We were advised that it would require a wealthy wife to pursue what was considered to be a remote possibility of claiming damages from her husband’s refusal to grant her the Get,” posted a member of the Family Law Group of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Another “Get Link” poster suggested that since this precedent may not have much impact outside of Israel, women use the ultimate power at their disposal to fight the injustice suffered by agunot.