Rabbinic judges break off ties with aguna organizations

The Council of Rabbinical Judges cut off ties with women's organizations that fight for the rights of agunot. Agunot are women in the process of divorce who cannot remarry because a recalcitrant husband refuses to give a divorce document. The decision of the council, a body representing over 90 judges of marital law, is a protest against repeated attacks launched by the women's organizations against the rabbinical establishment that led to media scrutiny of the judges and public criticism. The judges' decision to break off dialogue became known Tuesday, after Rabbi Eliyahu Chayshik, one of six rabbinical judges on the council, canceled an appearance at a conference organized by Bar Ilan University's Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women. Rackman Center director Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kadari announced at the beginning of the conference, which dealt with the legal issue of automatic maternal preference in child custody issues, that Chayshik had decided not to participate. "I am sorry to announce that Rabbi Chayshik will not participate in today's conference," Kadari told the crowd. "I hope the Council of Rabbinical Judges will reconsider its decision to break ties with the Rackman Center and other women's organizations." A spokesman for the management of the rabbinical courts said that the council was "reexamining its relations with women's organizations that claim to protect the rights of agunot." Rabbinical judges David Malka and Avraham Sheinfeld, both members of the six-man council, told The Jerusalem Post that there had been no official announcement. However, both men admitted that rabbinical judges were wary of their relations with the women's organizations. Kadari expressed her "sorrow" over the decision, but refused to elaborate. Malka said that there was a lot of bad blood between the judges and the organizations. "We are bitter after all the attacks made by the organizations on the judges." Malka called the criticism blatant and inappropriate meddling in rabbinical affairs. "We always do our best to help agunot. But the majority of problems are caused by greedy lawyers that fight among themselves." Malka also said the statistics on the number of agunot in Israel is exaggerated. "There are no more than 20 real agunot," said Malka. Malka admitted that he encourages women to relinquish child support payments owed by the husband or other monetary obligations in order to facilitate the giving of a get (divorce certificate). "Listen, this is money that she never earned," explained Malka. "Only in theory does it belong to her. "For instance, according to the law the wife is entitled to half of a man's pension rights even though she never worked a day in her life. I do not think she should remain an aguna because she is stubborn about receiving her half." In an interview with the Post about a year ago, Kadari had said that the reality in rabbinical courts today was that "a woman is expected to give up custody rights, child support or the right to supervision during visitation to receive a get.