Let’s try it again …
Sharon’s government has been working like mad to make deals with various political factions in order to assure passage of the upcoming budget. Should the budget not pass, the government will fall and disengagement plans will have to be suspended. Much attention has focused on the deal Sharon made with the secularist Shinui Party, who despite their support for the disengagement, threatened to scuttle it should their demands not be met. 700 million NIS later (about $140 million) the price was settled and Shinui is now behind Sharon.
However, it’s recently come to light that other deals may have also been struck. A private members bill, introduced by National Religious Party MK Yitzhak Levy, seeks to allow Rabbinic Family courts to consider divorce requests “from one partner of a Jewish couple married abroad if he or she becomes an Israeli citizen, even if the other partner has no connection to Israel.”
This private members bill was tacked on to an existing government bill whose provisions seek to assist non-Israeli Jewish women who live abroad and have been denied a divorce from their husbands and can thus not remarry.
According to Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a member of the Bar-Ilan Law Faculty and head of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at BIU, this private members bill “would create unfair pressure on the partner living abroad and open him or her up to blackmail and coercion.” Further opposition was voiced by “Justice Ministry legal experts, women’s organizations and Labor, Yahad and Shinui Knesset members.”
The bill is expected to pass although it still has a number of readings to go through. One would hope that the intent of the original government bill, to ease the plight of Agunot – women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce thus forcing them to remain unmarried – will allow for further amendments that take the valid concerns of critics into account.
Exacerbating the already tragic situation of Agunot cannot be in anyone’s interest. Putting Israel in a conflict of laws position with the rest of the world hardly seems like a good idea either. The private members bill states that rabbinical court authority would only be exercised after one of the parties moves to Israel, becomes a citizen and civil proceedings have not yet been initiated in the foreign country. This seeks to offer a certain measure of protection against vindictive and mean spirited actions, but that clearly is not enough.
Since it is a private members bill, it is still possible for coalition members to break rank and vote against it should it not be sufficiently amended (only about 4 need to do that for the bill to fail). Barring that, there is always judicial review by the Supreme Court that could nullify the unfair provisions. Lets hope it doesn’t come to that.
Ironically, last Thursday’s Fast of Esther that preceded Purim has been designated International Agunot Day by ICAR, a coalition of 24 women’s organizations in Israel dedicated to eliminating the existence of agunot.
This year the coalition has arranged for the Knesset to be the focus of activities on March 23, the day before the fast. The Knesset Committee on the Status of Women will devote its morning session to the issue of agunot and has invited lawyers, toenot (women rabbinical pleaders), activists, agunot and scholars to discuss the problem and solutions. From 8:30 to 11 a.m. there will be a demonstration outside the Knesset entrance urging our elected representatives to end the suffering of agunot.
The article in the Jerusalem Post makes further points, well worth repeating:
None of us can sit back quietly anymore. In addition to supporting activist organizations, we must each do something in our own community. Let us boycott the businesses of recalcitrant husbands. If they are found in our communities, let us shun them socially. If they attend our synagogues, they should be refused any religious honor or privilege.
No man who refuses to free his wife should be called to the Torah â€“ even if it’s his son’s bar mitzva, or other celebration. We should be loud and clear about our position: that torturing a woman by imprisoning her in an unwanted or nonexistent marriage is so abhorrent that we will treat such a man as if he were a criminal.
As for our religious leaders, we must each demand that they use the tools Halacha has given them to find a way to release agunot. The time has come to stop the accepted practice of allowing abusive husbands to decide how much they are to be paid for their consent to a divorce. Jewish law was never meant to be used as an excuse for blackmail in the divorce process.
I fully agree. Maspik already.