Saturday, June 18, 2005

Agunah to Feminisim

I feel the need to write a rebuttle to an article written in the Jewish Herald, week of June 17, 2005. It is titled A Chance For Redemption. It is written by Barbra Sofer. She starts off writing,

"I recently gave into blackmail. In my eclectic e-mail forwarded by my Jersualem Synagogue: 'Would I like to share in the mitzvah of helping an agunah', 'a woman who'd been refused a divorce, 'gain her freedom?"......

She then goes on writting a sob story of an Ethiopian woman who's husband demands an exorbant amount of money to give a get.

Not something I myself would call blackmail.....but o.k., she wants to get you attention.

She continues,

Divorce in Israel easily becomes an exercise in extortion. Just this week I heard that a recalcient husband jailed for five years recieved his freedom-as well as $50,000 prize and a month at a five star hotel......

Kind of hard to believe someone raised $50,000, but o.k. sometimes the impossible or stupid happens.

Correcting this situation shouldn't be a contest between woman's groups and the rabbinical authorities.

I can't continue to paraphrase the article so in a few words she says, Who should we give over the power of divorce? Not the Rabbi's in Israel they are bad people. Reform is the way to go. Their Rabbi Naama Kelman (a woman- not that I have anything against women-but it is dubius to me that she knows what she is talking about) "accomplished" allowing 5,000 Israeli couples to be married in Cyprus, including Kohanim to divorcees and the "people who can not be married in Israel". She writes, "this makes me very sad, but who can blame them?" Uh, right!

"More and more couples who want to avoid dealing wth the entanglments of the Orthodox Rabbinate are heading to Cyprus...."

In Israel we have special foreign organ-transplant insurance becuase we are so grudging about donating organs. An enterprising insurance company should offer divorce insurance for couples brave enough to marry here..."

Hummm, the only intelligent thing so far. All I need is your signature. Yah right, it would be the worst investment because you're so feminist, your husband would divorce you in a week.

BUT this is the clincher:

That would be funny in people's lives wouldn't be ruined, or if our holy torah wasn't being discraced by the way divorce is handled. As we approch tikkun leil shavuos, our rabbis should have REFRAINED from teaching and, instead, used the nights of study to come forth with a solution replacing blackmail with the light of Torah."

Helllooooo lady. Look who's talking about TORAH. Like, you know what it is.

You disgust me.


Blogger Daphna said...

I actually know Barbara Sofer, and she is an extremely Jewishly well-educated, committed and Torah-Observant Jew, as is her husband, Gerald Schoeder. (Check out his books on how scientific advances reveal the truth of Torah). They are also committed enough to Israel to live here and raise their children here (also all lovely, committed, Torah-Observant Jews).

What is not always realized is that Israel presents special problems in the area of divorce and marriage. Unfortunately, there really are corrupt rabbis, mysogynist rabbis, lazy rabbis...and these guys have power over those of us living here. If I get married tommorow, and if my husband beats me, and if I want a divorce and he refuses, my fate--my ability to get out of the marriage, to go on with my life, remarry and have some chance of happiness, is completely in the hands of these rabbis. And if I draw a hard core Haredi guy who is none too fond of women...what recourse do I have?

You can see similar abuses in the area of conversion-another rabbi-controlled domain. I recently had to watch a friend of mine go through the whole conversion process here (Torah-Observant doing Orthodox conversion) and it was an absolute nightmare. Was it because the friend did not know enough? Nope--the rabbis had no complaints with his lifestyle or knowledge. Was it because he had not demonstrated commitment to live a Jewish life in a Jewish community? No-observant life in Jerusalem--doesn't get much better than that! It was because of red-tape: rabbis who won't answer phone calls, and power struggles between the Rabbinute and Hasidic rabbis. To be perfectly honest, after watching this person's struggle and the agony they put him through, I have pretty much decided that if I get married it will be in Cyprus or by a rabbi back in the States, just because the rabbinate here is just too corrupt, and the only way it can be changed if for people to "boycott it" until they wake up and say "Hey guys, we are sullying the name of the Torah--let's clean up our act!" Incidentally, I would have no problem proving my Jewishness.

Who is watching the watchmen?

Before you deride Mrs. Sofer's work, perhaps you look into the issues a bit more. Look into the issues of agunot here in Israel. Meet with some of the organizations who try to help them. Meet some of the women. You disagree with the Cyprus solution? You have your own "bully pulpit" as it were--perhaps you could use it to suggest halachic solutions to the very real problems of these women. Ignoring problems will not make them go away and in fact, what we really need are more Torah Jews to stand up say "enough!" "Torah has been sullied enough!".

8:03 AM  
Blogger EN said...

Daphna- My heart aches at the pain that people suffer to go through a divorce or conversion, and by all means the Israli system is not the best, (I've been in school there for long enough to realize the Israeli system is screwy) but the degridation and tone of voice against the Torah is unexcusable. The fact that someone is in an abusive marriage is sad and how to deal with that is always a problem, but the solution can NOT come by making "a loop hole" in the Torah. You (and she) write that Rabbis should come up with "halachic solutions" to the problem. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but Rabbis don't make up halacha. It is there. Rabbis only uncover the halacha from the Bible which is the word of G-d. They have no means of making exceptions or anything of the sort.
You can't even write a preneptuual retroactive agreement. (see book Gray Matters for an indepth discution of all proposed solutions and why halachically they are unviable) It is unfortunate that there is a lot of red tape and that Rabbis have to deal with so many types of people that don't have the same social restraints as them and although they are Jewish, have "baggage" with them. To compromise on the religiosity and to make exceptions for abused mariages doesn't make sense. There would be no limit. If you have a question you can always write a letter to the editor of the bible; G-d.
You also write "draw a hard core Haredi guy who is none too fond of women" isn't that a little biased and stereotypical, why shouldn't haradim like women?
This is what Judaisim is about. It is not always nice and sometimes we must bite the bullet. In a true Jewish court they would be able to beat the recalcient husband until he is close to death.....but Noooo, you can't do that, right? Human rights. Make up your mind.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Daphna said...

You say that there are no halachic solutions. Others say that there are. You quote one book. Other people quote other books. Quite frankly, one can find books written by rabbis to support damn near anything, so the fact that you reference a book does not convince me. There is enough smoke, in the form of Orthodox rabbis who have proposed solutions, to make me think that there has got to be a fire somewhere, and that the search for halachic solutions should go on.

Beyond this, there are many who confuse stringencies with halacha. The two are not one and the same. If you would like to take a more stringent approach, please do. When it is you, or your daughter, who is caught up in the morass, you are more than welcome to blithely say "well, my Daughter, I am terribly sorry but you can never remarry, never have more children and never go on with your life because that is what Judaism demands". But to force other people to accept stringencies for themselves and their, sorry, that is not your privilege.

As for the example of the haredi rabbi who dislikes women, it could also be a Yeshivish rabbi who dislikes women. It could be a rabbinut Rabbi who dislikes women. The whole point is that women are the vulnerable party in this whole deal, and the rabbinut as a whole is not accepting responsbility and doing everything possible to prevent evil people from exploiting this vulnerability and evil/corrupt rabbis from ignoring the needs of women because of their own petty hatreds.

Incidentally, a family member found herself in a situation where she had to pay thousands of dollars to get a get from an ex-husband. The guy had a wife and kids in another city. But hey, the cards were in his hands....

5:11 PM  
Blogger EN said...

Daphna- Again, without trying to sound rude,I think you are missing the point. Just because some "Rabbi" who decides to call himself "Orthodox" decides to write a loop hole, both you and I know that it doesn't mean it is true. There is no debate as to the authenticity of the prohibition. There is evolutionary judaism (which is wrong) and authentic Judaism. The laws do not change. Go back to the sources. Please don't be insulted if I tell you that I don't beleive you know the laws of the Talmud. Of the little I have studied, I tell you that it is not a simple matter. I respect the fact that you put your trust in the title "Rabbi" but I'm sure you are aware of the abuses it may be used for. These laws, and I mean the Shulchan Aruch ect. are not "stringences" as you put them. I can't understand why you would even assume that Rabbis dislike woman, or can't understand them, or are biased, or maschositic (or whatever the word is. Rabbis love women. Why else would they marry them? Rabbis are not out to "get" women. Women are not vulnerable. They make their own choices who to marry and how they want to live. If they made a wrong choice they've got to deal with it. (that sounds a little mean, but it proves my point). The Kesubah, marital contract and all the other safe gaurds that are in place, that the woman has to accept the ring from the man are to insure women don't get abused. However, not every system is perfect. Systems can be abused. torah is a an unchangable system designed by god for mankind. It has nothing to do with the beauty and truth of TORAH.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Miriam said...

Thanks for the interesting reading Daphna and En!

3:23 AM  
Blogger Daphna said...

So, I take it that you believe that a man who made a bad choice and who married badly should also be forced to live with it? Because, as you know, in the case where a woman refuses a get, rabbis can allow a man to take a second wife. But then, that would contradict your theory of strict and absolute responsibility for ones choices, no matter when, at what age or under which circumstances they were made. Perhaps the rabbis should refuse to grant this dispensation?

Regarding my knowledge of Talmud, no I do not know much. Which is why I will not accept your off-the-cuff denouncements; how do I know that you know what you are talking about? How do I know that you have the requisite knowledge and experience to be able to seperate the wheat from the chaff when reading works by rabbis? Again, you can find people who will say pretty much anything, and who can find plenty of Talmudic and other evidence to support it. Perhaps you know very little, and will believe whomever says what you want to hear? Perhaps not. Perhaps you are a talmid chacham, have a particular affinity for this area of halacha, have studied this subject for years, and have a particular ability to separate the good arguments from the bad. The point is that I do not know, so I will not accept your blanket rejection of solutions.

Actually, let's assume that there is absolutely no halachic method for preventing or solving this problem, save for beating the guy until he agrees. Why are the rabbis not ordering that recalcitrant husbands be placed under herem--and work together with other observant communities to ensure that it is observed across the board? Granted, this may not work in secular communities, but I imagine that this could be a powerful tool among the observant. If a Yeshivish man who beats his wife finds that there is *no* observant community that will accept him, hire him, speak to him, etc. because he refuses to give her a get, he may well come around. For that matter, this would send a very powerful message out to the communities: Torah-fearing men do not do this AND that a divorced woman is not a disgraced object worthy of scorn and unworthy of help and support.

There was an interesting profile in the Jerusalem Post this weekend of a woman who made aliyah. Among other things, she speaks of how she and her family were treated after her parents divorced, and how that affected her views of religion today. It was a very telling view of the Orthodox view on divorce and divorcees...and leads one to believe that there may not be that much interest in actually helping women who are caught in a bad marriage.

7:22 AM  
Blogger EN said...

Daphna-Regarding the fact a man can marry again if his wife doesn't accept the get, he requires 100 signatures of different Rabbis. Not an easy task. ;-)
I must agree with you that it is a sorry state of affairs that anyone can torment a woman in any way. I agree Rabbis and communities are not doing enough to prevent such a disaturous situation, in the means of cherems and punitive punishments. I do hope that a solution will be found (one that does not violate the Torah). Women should speak out and use the law to prevent abuse. Men who deny a get to their wife should burn in hell for a very long time. I myself would take a bat to the head of a man who refuses a get. And especially in Israel the process should be speeded up and the red tape removed. It is a subject that is not taken seriously by many people. I just wish the Torah wouldn't be bashed in the process. (not that I am accusing you).

9:35 AM  
Blogger Daphna said...

Incidentally, regarding the baseball bat approach...for all that it is mean and nasty and not how we do things now, I am pretty sure that there are many, many people out there who might, ahem, turn a blind eye to it.

;P Whack them jerks and good!

It is just really difficult to feel sorry for a man who would treat a woman in that manner. And besides, I do believe that corporal punishment is halachically valid. He who would exploit valid halacha to hurt and violate others should not complain when valid halacha is used to hurt him.

I have heard that in some communities, such practices are still followed. Out of the eyes of the authorities, of course.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Semgirl said...

Ok, she is going about it in a very ugly Orthodox-bashing way, which is unfortunate. But she is 1000% rt, no human being should have so much power over another human-being. Especially the mother of his children. Absolutely, disgusting.

2:50 PM  

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