Agunot advocacy group 'not surprised' at conference cancellation

Agunot met in Jerusalem Tuesday to share personal testimonies of the callous chauvinism and unprofessionalism of rabbinic judges and an uncaring religious legal system which causes unnecessary delays in the divorce process. Presentation of the testimonies, organized by Mavoi Satum [Dead End], the most radical of religious agunot advocacy groups, was supposed to coincide with a rabbinic conference, organized by the Chief Rabbinate on the issue of agunot. But at the last minute ultra Orthodox Ashkenazi rabbis connected with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, forced Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar to cancel the conference. Mavoi Satum's meeting Tuesday, which took place in the same hotel where the conference was slated to be held, was to be a protest against the Chief Rabbinate's refusal to invite women to the rabbinic conference. But after the cancellation Mavoi Satum's protest took on new meaning. "Actually, the cancellation was no surprise," said Rachel Azariya, Mavoi Satum's chairwoman. "And that's what is so sad." Azariya said that what made Mavoi Satum different from other agunot advocacy groups was its willingness to turn to legislators and the civil legal system for solutions. "For nine years we tried to cooperate with the rabbinate in the hope that a solution would come from within [the rabbinic establishment]," said Azariya. "But [we] realized that the rabbis are never going to solve the problem. The cancellation is just another example." Ariella, one of the women at the Mavoi Satum meeting, shared her negative experiences trying to secure a divorce via the rabbinic courts. She told how hard it was over the past three years to prove to the Rabbinic Court in Beersheba her husband's infidelity. "When I finally managed to bring one of his lovers to court to testify, it turned out that a judge did not show up and the entire court session was cancelled," recalled Ariella. "The lover later backtracked and refused to come back to give testimony." Three days ago the court finally issued an order obligating her husband to give her a get. "I hope soon I will be able to start my life all over again," she said.