Recently, rabbinical courts in Haifa and Safed wrote rulings that are revolutionary for Jewish law. The first decision obligated a man to divorce his wife after stalling the divorce for three years for no reason. Even before hearing the arguments, the judges ruled that the wife is entitled to a divorce, the man was obligated grant her the divorce, and could not blackmail her. The second ruling, issued by Safed rabbis, liberated a woman from aguna (“chained woman”) status seven years after her husband became comatose and thus unwittingly entrapped her in marriage as he could no longer consent to divorce.
Maybe you think Israeli women should rejoice that the learned rabbinical judges freed these women from the stubborn shackles of marriage. But this is an illusion.
Can you believe that our religion and our state allows a man to hold his wife captive for years, for no reason? Can you accept that under Jewish and Israeli law, a woman can be trapped in a state of limbo for the rest of her life? Yet that if the husband refuses or is unable to free his wife, other “owners” can? These other “owners” being rabbinical court judges who are empowered to determine whether a woman will spend the rest her life free or as a captive. Women exchange their recalcitrant husbands for other owners, but remain owned.
Are women actually men’s unwilling property in the 21st century? Can Israeli law really just entrap women in their marriages? The mere fact that a democratic state allows the existence of such cruel and anachronistic laws is bitterly disappointing.
It’s not just that Israel has no freedom of choice in marriage, but the law forced upon us is unacceptable. I find it hard to believe that a modern Sanhedrin Council, functioning in an advanced and enlightened society, would allow the existence of these laws.
I mean, a real Sanhedrin, and not the self-righteous Chief Rabbinate that sees itself as the true heir to the Sanhedrin Council. I may be wrong, but perhaps the religious establishment is merely a tool of control of the male world attempting to impose its authority on half of the population.
There have been countless incidents where a man abuses his wife for years, then refuses to release her from the shackles of marriage without cause, and no one intervenes, until the rabbis march in and rule her free! We are so relieved that the rabbis act as the savior and redeemer that we lose sight of the unjustness of the situation whereby one person, the husband, controls another person, the wife, indiscriminately, denies her freedom, denies her the ability to remarry, with the sanction of religion and state. Why do we tolerate this fatal blow to emotions, dignity and human liberty? Why is this law of our faith and of our nation? Why is it that a young and vibrant woman whose husband has fallen into a persistent vegetative state and will never regain consciousness need a rabbi to release her from her marriage? Even if the Torah and its scholars ease the regulations on Jewish women and lighten the burden of agunot, these placating rulings are nothing but a lie.
Women shouldn’t get favors, but self-determination. Women shouldn’t be pacified, but liberated.
There is a problem with the religion sanctioned by the state if it enables a man to negate his wife’s freedom, then empowers sages and judges to reduce her sentence at their discretion, while preventing her from determining her own fate.
In Judaism as practiced by the State of Israel, men collude to determine women’s lives. Why must women seek the mercy of enlightened judges to be free? Who empowered these judges to determine the fate of other human beings? Who negated women’s autonomy? We do not need rabbinical rescue missions, because we will no longer wallow in this mud. I refuse to rejoice at these enlightened religious rulings, so long as my fate remains imprisoned by religious judges. We must end to the rule of religion in our state.
The author is an expert in family law, inventor of the Domestic Union Cards – the civil solution to marriage in Israel, and the founder and executive director of New Family Organization.