Kolech, an Orthodox women’s rights lobbying group, holds its eighth annual conference on Monday, in which numerous public figures, politicians and academic experts will deliberate on some of the most pressing issues facing women in Israel.
Among some of the topics to be examined during the symposium at Bar-Ilan University’s Wohl Center will be legislative approaches to public affairs relating to women, the status of women in the rabbinical courts, the status of single mothers in the religious community, religious approaches to sexuality and how to provide sexual education which is both positive and in keeping with the community’s traditions.
One of the central discussions will consider the notion of integrating gender-specific approaches to key matters where religion and state intersect, such as in education, the military and the rabbinate.
A spokeswoman for Kolech noted, for example, that legislative efforts to substantially increase female representation in the electoral committee for the chief rabbis before the recent elections were thwarted, although the eventual number of women on the panel was much larger than in any previous year.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Ruti Feuchtwanger, Kolech board member and one of the conference coordinators, argued that the nexus of religion and state is the cause of some of the most serious problems facing women, and that the state must therefore work to solve these concerns as part of its responsibility to all citizens.
To that end, a discussion between Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari and MKs Tamar Zandberg, Aliza Lavie and Pnina Tamano Shata will address the viability and status of legislative solutions to issues such as agunot (“chained women”) whose husbands refuse to grant a bill of divorce, as well as efforts to improve the status of women in the rabbinical courts system.
The problem of agunot will be addressed by Blu Greenberg, founder of the Jewish Orthodox Feminists Alliance and a conference panelist. She will highlight in particular the possibilities for systemic solutions within the boundaries of Jewish law.
In Jewish law, a man must willingly grant the bill of divorce, or “get,” before a woman can remarry and have children.
Greenberg argues that rabbis of the Talmudic era as well as from later periods were amenable under certain conditions to solutions such as annulling a marriage where it proved impossible to end the union with the wife’s receipt of the get from her husband.
“Elemental justice demands wider use of such halachic solutions.
Rather than have a woman suffer permanent anchorage to a marriage that was not functional, the rabbis found a way to release her,” Greenberg told the Post.
Feuchtwanger asserted that the problems facing women in Israel require substantial attention and redress.
“This past Shabbat we all prayed and repented, but this repentance will not be complete on a national level until the position of women in society and in Jewish law is rectified,” Feuchtwanger commented.
“Issues of marriage and divorce, the participation of women in religious leadership and in the synagogue, and security for women from violence, are just some of the major challenges that need to be addressed and fixed,” she said.
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