Letter 04   03-Apr-2002   Are you a misogynist?
Ezra Levant
"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

  03 April 2002

Ezra Levant
159, 2515-90th Ave SW
Calgary, AB T2V 0L8

Ezra Levant:

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 saying above "if she commits adultery, he can just get rid of her" perhaps leaves the impression that the husband needs a cause of action as serious as adultery before he can divorce his wife, and that he has a choice as to how to respond to his wife's adultery.  Other sources paint a more misogynistic picture on both counts:

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

The outline above is far from exhausting all that is worth noting about Orthodox Judaism's treatment of women.  Rather, various details cry out for examination, as for example 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.

Or, for example, the detail of the rape of a married woman calling down upon her head the rabbinical condemnation of disloyalty and unfitness to continue her marriage, unless her husband has the presence of mind to utter a certain disingenuous incantation:

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.

One notices incidentally with respect to the rape of married women that any report of the crime to the police, any investigation, any bringing of the perpetrators to justice would tend to negate a husband's incantation of "I don't believe you," thus necessitating that married couples who want to stay married allow rapists to go unpunished, and thus removing from married women the protection of the law, and thus removing a deterrent to future rapes.

The adherence to ancient practices which weigh heavily on a woman can sometimes be explained by the money that the husband is enabled to extort from his wife, or on the money that the rabbis are enabled to extort from a divorcing couple (the aguna referred to below, I understand, being a woman who cannot get a divorce because her husband refuses to give her the requisite "get"):

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

It would appear from all of 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.  You, at the same time, find yourself deep within both women-hating camps you are an Orthodox Jew, and you are a supporter of Israel.

Before you think of running for parliament again, then, you might give some thought to what you are going to say to Canadian voters who hold values of respect and equality for women.  Among the paths open to you are the following:

(1) if you are opposed to Orthodox Judaism's and Israel's misogyny, then you can explain why you support institutions with whose doctrines and practices you disagree; or

(2) if you favor Orthodox Judaism's and Israel's misogyny, then you can explain how you intend to suppress your religious convictions and your foreign loyalties while carrying out your duties as a Member of Parliament in Canada.

Lubomyr Prytulak