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Sunday, July 19, 2015 

Conservative Judaism adherent should NOT face jail time for refusing to divorce in Haredi-dominated rabbinical court

A woman who adheres to Conservative Judaism, just like my grandmother did, is facing jail time for not getting a divorce through the rabbinate court:
With only her dissertation to complete, Nathalie Lastreger is scheduled to become an ordained rabbi by Jerusalem’s Conservative-affiliated Mechon Schechter this summer. Ironically, she may soon find her busy schedule freed up for writing: Lastreger is facing a warrant for her arrest and possible jail time for refusing to enter an Israeli rabbinical court for divorce proceedings.

In a classic Israeli religion versus state scenario, Lastreger was shocked upon learning — through rabbinical court summons — that despite her efforts to prevent this situation, the rabbis indeed hold legal jurisdiction over her halachic, but unreported marriage 12 years ago.

Although Lastreger, an observant, yet Liberal Jew, needs a get (decree of divorce) for her marriage’s dissolution, she would prefer to go through the Conservative movement, which she said was an agreed precondition to marriage.

But since the 1950s, in an Israel that has divided jurisdictions between secular and religious authorities, the law requires that any Jew in Israel who wishes to divorce needs a state-sanctioned rabbinic court decree.

According to Itim, a non-profit organization that helps Israelis facing life-cycle events to negotiate religious bureaucracy, “the rabbinical court is the correct address for divorce for every Jewish couple including [here it lists a variety of scenarios] … a couple that was married in a private Jewish service (that is not recognized in Israel), e.g. within the framework of the Reform or Conservative movements.”

Additionally, “to avoid any uncertainty, you will be expected to arrange a ‘get l’chumra’ (a get required as a stringency) or a ‘get m’safek’ (a get that is required because of uncertainty), just in case your marriage is in fact halachically valid, and binding until issuance of a get.”

Having taken a vow after her divorce from her first husband to never set foot in the Israeli rabbinical court system again, Lastreger did not comply with the June rabbinical court summons. A subsequent restraining order preventing her from leaving the country preceded the current warrant for her arrest, valid since July 3.

With emergency bags packed and her valuables locked away, Lastreger told The Times of Israel that she is ready to face jail for the causes of pluralism and separation of church and state.

These issues fly under the public’s radar, said Lastreger. “I’m hardly the first who wasn’t registered as married and got sent to the rabbinate.”

Since she went public with her story, a Hebrew Facebook post depicting her situation has been viewed over 700,000 times and she’s been profiled in mainstream Hebrew media.

“People are talking about this. They’re saying, ‘Rega, rega, rega [wait a minute], what does this mean for me?’ It’s unbelievable the number of people who are coming forward with their own horror stories,” she said.

“I’m against anarchy: there must be a civil path to marriage to prevent chaos,” said Lastreger. “But if I’m already here in this situation, I’ll be civil marriage’s Rosa Parks.”
Make of it what you will, but does she deserve to face jail time over something non-violent like this? Of course not. This is extremely petty, and all the Haredi-controlled rabbinate's doing is giving ammunition to anti-semites. They've also done little more than lead to rebelliousness against their domination. If she doesn't want to register through something she finds repellent, she doesn't have to. This calls for a serious change in the laws, and it's going to have to be done soon, and not allow the Haredi-controlled rabbinate to get in the way.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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