Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jewish Women Abandoned again!

Call to Action: Write to the chief rabbi’s office. Call your own rabbi and work together to free agunot.

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Rabbi Shlomo Amar / Sharon Shenhav

Abandoned again
by Norma Joseph
The Canadian Jewish News
November 15, 2006

For two years, Sharon Shenhav, together with the International Council of Jewish Women, and Rabbi Shlomo Amar, chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, planned a conference on gittin ( Jewish divorces). This was to be a special consultation with rabbis from across the Jewish world. Only invited rabbis could attend, and only rabbis directly involved with divorce in rabbinic courts (batei din) would be invited.

Those of us who have been active for decades on behalf of agunot (women denied a Jewish divorce) took great care to make sure our batei din were well represented. We also wanted to be present, but we understood the organizational premise: in order for the rabbis to have serious deliberations, they needed to be assured of privacy and confidentiality. Many rabbis – regrettably none from Canada – indicated their willingness to attend.

The conference was to take place Nov. 7 and 8.

We had high hopes. The chief rabbi’s invitation was an indication of his agreement that the issue was pressing. The attendance of prominent rabbis suggested their acceptance that the problem of agunot required Jewish legal attention. (When I first began my agunah activities 30 years ago, I was told by rabbis that there was no problem and certainly not one in Jewish law.) Perhaps they would create standards of court procedure for all batei din. Perhaps they would explore and recommend the possible solutions that exist within Halachah. Perhaps they would create networks of rabbinic co-operation and future interaction. Perhaps we would see a global end to get abuse.

The solutions exist in Halachah. All sorts of new variations using old precedents have been proposed. We lack the consensus for implementation. Perhaps…

But Rabbi Amar cancelled the conference.

After two years of work, days before people were to arrive in Israel, the rabbi called it off! Why? Because of pressure from some Israeli rabbis.

But why? What could they be afraid of? A group of their own colleagues – no women present, no media, no pressure, just discussions probing possible actions or resolutions.

What is so threatening? Why don’t they see the chillul HaShem (desecration) that their inaction causes? Why do they not see that they have empowered countless lawless males to use the law to abuse law-abiding women? Why do they continue to protect the husband’s unilateral power at the expense of the wife?

Some rabbis still intend to go and present papers anyway. Rabbi Amar will invite them to lunch only. There will be no serious grappling with halachic ramifications and solutions.
Why not? What are they so afraid of? What a missed opportunity!

If you care, write to the chief rabbi’s office. Call your own rabbi and work together to free agunot. There are many wonderful pulpit rabbis willing to help. Do something!


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