|03 April 2002|
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.
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. [...]
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. [...]
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.
Under Jewish law, a man can divorce a woman for any reason or no reason. The Talmud specifically says that a man can divorce a woman because she spoiled his dinner or simply because he finds another woman more attractive, and the woman's consent to the divorce is not required. In fact, Jewish law requires divorce in some circumstances: when the wife commits a sexual transgression, a man must divorce her, even if he is inclined to forgive her.
Ahavat Israel at www.ahavat-israel.com/ahavat/torat/divorce.asp
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.
Women's groups were expressing outrage after rabbis ruled that a charedi [fervently religious] woman who was gang-raped had to get a divorce because her husband failed to utter a perfunctory "I don't believe you" when she told him what happened. [...]|
According to Jewish law, if a woman is raped, tells her husband and the husband utters disbelief, the couple can stay married. If he fails to do so, however, they must divorce, as the woman would be deemed disloyal.
Instead of telling his wife, "I don't believe you," the victim's husband telephoned various religious functionaries to consult them, little realizing that in so doing he was in fact admitting that he believed his wife's story.
Consequently, a number of rabbis and halachic authorities informed the husband a few days later that he must divorce his wife immediately, despite the couple's love for each other and their desire to stay married and provide for their children.
The rabbis refused to compromise despite the husband's protests, especially since the husband is a Cohen, or a member of the ancient Jewish priesthood, which they said calls for even stricter interpretations of the law.
Michael Yudelman, Forced divorce for rape victim spurs women's anger, Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, 06-Mar-1998, www.jewishsf.com/bk980306/irape.htm.
According to various testimonies that the London-based Jewish Chronicle published a few weeks ago, some husbands demand sums ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 pounds in return for a get. Writing in The Jerusalem Post, author Naomi Ragen cites passages in a letter from Rabbi Moshe Morgenstern, a leading Orthodox rabbi. Morgenstern points out that a Jewish divorce hearing requires, in addition to the three rabbis comprising the court tribunal, another two rabbis, representing the husband and wife respectively. Each of these five rabbis receives at least $200 an hour. Thus, notes Ragen, the minimum cost for one hour of rabbinical court proceedings is $1,000. Since the arbitration process takes anywhere from 10 to 50 hours, every aguna, according to Morgenstern, represents a revenue source worth between $10,000 and $50,000.
Eliahu Salpeter, A little courage on the part of the rabbis, Ha'aretz, 13-Jul-2000, on the Israel Religious Action Center web site at www.irac.org/article_e.asp?artid=293