Al Gore   Letter 02   24-Aug-2000   Joe Lieberman's misogyny quandary
"In the religious courts, women, along with children, the mentally deficient, the insane, and convicted criminals, cannot testify.  A woman cannot be a witness or, needless to say, a judge.  A woman cannot sign a document." Andrea Dworkin
August 24, 2000

Al Gore, Vice President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Al Gore:

I bring to your attention the following excerpts from the writing of Andrea Dworkin:

In Israel, Jewish women are basically in reality, in everyday life governed by Old Testament law.  So much for equality of the sexes.  The Orthodox rabbis make most of the legal decisions that have a direct impact on the status of women and the quality of women's lives.  They have the final say on all issues of "personal status," which feminists will recognize as the famous private sphere in which civilly subordinate women are traditionally imprisoned.  The Orthodox rabbis decide questions of marriage, adultery, divorce, birth, death, legitimacy; what rape is; and whether abortion, battery, and rape in marriage are legal or illegal.  [...]

How did Israel get this way how did these Orthodox rabbis get the power over women that they have?  How do we dislodge them, get them off women?  Why isn't there a body of civil law superseding the power of religious law that gives women real, indisputable rights of equality and self-determination in this country that we all helped build?  I'm 44; Israel is 42; how the hell did this happen?  What are we going to do about it now?  [...]

2.  The condition of Jewish women in Israel is abject.

Where I live [the United States] things aren't too good for women.  It's not unlike Crystal Night all year long given the rape and battery statistics which are a pale shadow of the truth the incest, the pornography, the serial murders, the sheer savagery of the violence against women.  But Israel is shattering.  Sisters: we have been building a country in which women are dog shit, something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.  [...]  From what I saw and heard and learned, we have helped to build a living hell for women, a nice Jewish hell.  [...]  I felt disgraced by the way women are treated in Israel, disgraced and dishonored.  I remembered my Hebrew School principal, the Holocaust survivor, who said I had to be a Jew first, an American second, and a citizen of the world, a human being last, or I would have the blood of Jews on my hands.  I've kept quiet a long time about Israel so as not to have the blood of Jews on my hands.  It turns out that I am a woman first, second, and last they are the same; and I find I do have the blood of Jews on my hands the blood of Jewish women in Israel.

Divorce and Battery

In Israel, there are separate religious courts that are Christian, Muslim, Druze, and Jewish.  Essentially, women from each group are subject to the authority of the most ancient systems of religious misogyny.

In 1953 a law was passed bringing all Jews under the jurisdiction of the religious courts for everything having to do with "personal status."  In the religious courts, women, along with children, the mentally deficient, the insane, and convicted criminals, cannot testify.  A woman cannot be a witness or, needless to say, a judge.  A woman cannot sign a document.  This could be an obstacle to equality.

Under Jewish law, the husband is the master; the woman belongs to him, what with being one of his ribs to begin with; her duty is to have children preferably with plenty of physical pain; well, you remember the Old Testament.  You've read the Book.  You've seen the movie.  What you haven't done is live it.  In Israel, Jewish women do.

The husband has the sole right to grant a divorce; it is an unimpeachable right.  A woman has no such right and no recourse.  She has to live with an adulterous husband until he throws her out (after which her prospects aren't too good); if she commits adultery, he can just get rid of her (after which her prospects are worse).  She has to live with a batterer until he's done with her.  If she leaves, she will be homeless, poor, stigmatized, displaced, an outcast, in internal exile in the Promised Land.  If she leaves without formal permission from the religious courts, she can be judged a "rebellious wife," an actual legal category of women in Israel without, of course, any male analogue.  A "rebellious wife" will lose custody of her children and any rights to financial support.  There are an estimated 10,000 agunot "chained women" whose husbands will not grant them divorces.  Some are prisoners; some are fugitives; none have basic rights of citizenship or personhood.

No one knows the extent of the battery.  Sisterhood Is Global says that in 1978 there were approximately 60,000 reported cases of wife-beating; only two men went to prison.  In 1981 I talked with Marcia Freedman, a former member of the Israeli parliament and a founder of the first battered-women's shelter in Israel, which I visited in Haifa.  At that time, she thought wife-beating in Israel occurred with ten times the statistical frequency we had here [in the United States].  Recent hearings in parliament concluded that 100,000 women were being beaten each year in their own homes.  [...]

Well, women get beaten and beaten to death here [in the United States] too, don't they?  But the husband doesn't get so much active help from the state not to mention the God of the Jews.  And when a Jewish woman is given a divorce, she has to physically back out of her husband's presence in the court.  It is an argument for being beaten to death.

A draft of Israel's newly proposed "Fundamental Human Rights Law" a contemporary equivalent of our Bill of Rights exempts marriage and divorce from all human-rights guarantees.  [...]

All the Other Good Things

Of course, Israel has all the other good things boys do to girls: rape, incest, prostitution.  Sexual harassment in public places, on the streets, is pervasive, aggressive, and sexually explicit.  Every woman I talked with who had come to Israel from some other place brought up her rage at being propositioned on the street, at bus stops, in taxis, by men who wanted to fuck and said so.  The men were Jewish and Arab.  At the same time, in Jerusalem, Orthodox men throw stones at women who don't have their arms covered.

Excerpts from Andrea Dworkin, Israel: Whose Country Is It Anyway? (Part 2 of 2), the complete Part 2 of the article being available online at www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/IsraelII.html, and from which Part 1 can be accessed by link.

Andrea Dworkin's statement above is far from exhausting all that is worth noting about Orthodox Judaism's treatment of women.  To add just one further example of the sort of practice that cries out for discussion is the "proper manner" in which a non-Jewish woman is converted to Judaism:

This 'proper manner' entails, for females, their inspection by three rabbis while naked in a 'bath of purification', a ritual which, although notorious to all readers of the Hebrew press, is not often mentioned by the English media in spite of its undoubted interest for certain readers.
Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, Pluto Press, London and Boulder Colorado, 1994, pp. 4-5.

It would appear from the above that Orthodox Judaism is misogynistic, that Israeli treatment of women is dominated by Orthodox Judaism, and for this reason that Israeli treatment of women is also misogynistic.  At the same time, your running mate, Joe Lieberman, finds himself deep within both women-hating camps he is an Orthodox Jew described by the press as "devout" and he is a supporter of Israel.

From this some might conclude that before Joe Lieberman can be accepted by voters who hold American values of respect and equality for women, he will have to venture out into one of two paths:

(1) if he is opposed to Judaism's and Israel's misogyny, then he must explain why he supports institutions with whose doctrines and practices he disagrees; or

(2) if he favors Judaism's and Israel's misogyny, then he must explain how he intends to suppress his religious convictions and his foreign loyalties while carrying out his duties as Vice President of the United States.

Lubomyr Prytulak