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Thursday, October 29, 2015 

Haredi-controlled rabbinic courts abuse the rights battered women and children

The JTA wrote about the only shelter for religious women in Israel, and tells how Haredi-run rabbinic courts have sided with abusive husbands on custody issues. First, they say:
She had fled her abusive husband two weeks earlier, she explained. The woman tried to go to her parents’ home, but her mother told her that she had to return to her husband. A social worker had offered to place her in a shelter, but as a haredi Orthodox woman, she couldn’t remain there due to the lack of strict kosher and Sabbath adherence. So she was left to seek out shelter in the hotel lobbies of Jerusalem instead.
Her own mother threw her under the bus? Now that is abysmally low. And similarly, so are the Haredi-run courts who side with abusive fathers/husbands:
For many of these women and children, being forced to go to a shelter where their religious lifestyles are not acknowledged would likely compound the trauma, said Amy Oppenheimer-Abitol, the former overseas director of Bat Melech. Creating an environment that is religiously comfortable helps mitigate the trauma of having to move into a shelter.

Also, since communal rabbis and leaders often participate in seeking out shelter for battered wives, they’d probably be less likely to suggest a shelter that didn’t adhere to Orthodox Judaism’s rules. Even if these communal rabbis are reluctant to publicly acknowledge the existence of domestic violence in their congregations, their imprimatur is essential to getting women to leave abusive husbands.

Plus, fleeing to a secular shelter can be used against an Orthodox woman in rabbinic court. Several years ago, one Bat Melech client had to be moved to a secular shelter for security reasons, Korman recalled.

“The week after she went to a nonreligious [shelter], her husband’s lawyer went to the rabbinic court,” Korman said.

The lawyer argued that the children were being subjected to secular influences at the shelter.

“The court immediately decided to take the children and give them to the father,” he said. It took three months for the mother to get her kids back.

How does this happen?

Israel’s legal system is part modern and part secular, and part holdover from the Ottoman time when the region was administered through the millet system, in which each religious community was mostly allowed to rule itself according to its regulations.

In the modern state of Israel, some of the millet structure remains — rites of passage, such as marriage and divorce, are handled in religious courts. This means there is no such thing as a civil marriage (or divorce) in Israel. It also means that matters pertaining to divorce, such as alimony or child custody, can be determined by either a panel of rabbis in a beit din or a magistrate in family court — where the case is decided is determined by which court the case was opened.

Sometimes, it can be a race to get to court first — for women, the family courts tend to be more favorable, as religious courts tend to emphasize reunification, with divorce as the last resort. Plus, in the religious courts, any whiff of religious impropriety — even going to a secular shelter to escape physical abuse — can be used against the mother.
It goes without saying that it's offensive and harmful conduct that puts religious observance above the safety and well being of the wife and children. And the way the laws are run here is an embarrassment that'll probably take a long time to modify and repair.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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