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Friday, January 20, 2023 

Marriage and divorce issues shouldn't be solely in the hands of Haredi lawmakers

A writer who's worked with Mavoi Satum, a group advocating for women stuck in marriages with men who refuse to sign agreements for divorce, tells about a questionable agreement being made in the Knesset that could continue to harm women's rights:
Women's rights are at risk under Israel's 37th government. The coalition agreements signed between the governing parties include provisions that threaten women's rights, including the expansion of the power of the Rabbinical Courts. According to the coalition agreements, the new government will pass legislation in which any case where both parties consent will be able to be tried by the rabbinical court.

Essentially, this will create two separate legal systems in Israel, one of which is governed by the laws of the Knesset and one which is in the hands of Ultra-Orthodox rabbinical judges (who are exclusively men). Currently, the Ultra-Orthodox rabbinate and rabbinical courts have absolute jurisdiction over every Jewish marriage, divorce, and conversion. This means that these crucial life cycle events must take place in accordance with an interpretation of Jewish law (Halachah) that generally favors the rights and desires of men over those of women. Already this system has empowered the abuse of women. The abuse currently allowed under the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts is most clear in the realm of divorce. According to Halachah, a divorce is only legal if a man freely and willingly grants his wife a bill of divorce. Until a man gives his wife a bill of divorce, she has no choice but to remain married to him.

There are several halachic solutions to this problem, but they are not recognized by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate that controls the Israeli rabbinical courts. Under this current system, approximately one in five Israeli women are unable to get a divorce meaning they are trapped, sometimes for decades, in unwanted and abusive marriages.

Under the coalition agreements, the patriarchal interpretation of Halacha, which today is confined to the jurisdiction of family matters, will be expanded to include any matter in which both parties consent to be tried before the rabbinical court. This is alarming primarily because the Israeli government is essentially signing off on the use of an ultra-Orthodox interpretation of Halachah to arbitrate non-family matters (depending on which coalition agreement makes it into law), an interpretation of Halachah that has already been proven to be problematic for women in the realm of marriage and divorce.
It's completely valid to object to the notion that ultra-Orthodox should be the sole ones to determine issues of divorce, or even how marriage itself should be conducted to start with. And of course, there's the matter of child custody, lest we forget. Even if female judges were or are included in these courts, that's no guarantee things would fare better.

The Haredis should not be allowed to have sole jurisdiction over these affairs regarding divorce and child custody, and their conduct has long been causing Israel embarrassment enough from a modern standard. The government shouldn't agree to this in every way, shape and form.

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  • I'm Avi Green
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