Advancing women’s rights

BatSheva Sherman-Shani hopes for a country that is less polarized and more diverse in terms of thought.

Batsheva Sherman-Shani 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Batsheva Sherman-Shani 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
■ What issue gets you out of bed in the morning ? The battle between religion and state in Israel, and the status of women in the rabbinical courts.
■ What issue keeps you up at night? Cases of agunot, women we represent whose husbands are not willing to give them a get [divorce].
■ What’s the most difficult professional moment you’ve faced so far? There were two such moments lately; when an activist organization and politician tried to legislate a law that would harm agunot while claiming to help them, and once when the Bar Association voted in two men to represent them in the committee that appoints dayanim [rabbinical court judges], turning the committee into a “men only” club barring women from important decision-making positions.
The realization that politics can overpower conviction is discouraging.
■ Why do you do what you do? Because I have faith in the ability of Jewish law to adapt to modern times, and I am ashamed by how the Halacha is perceived by the general public due to how it is misused by some in rabbinical courts.
■ If you were prime minister, what’s the first thing you would do? I would establish roundtable debates – interdisciplinary work groups that would have to debate internal issues of economy, religion and state, education, discrimination and all other issues. The conclusion would be the basis of Israel’s constitution.
■ Which Israeli should have a movie made about him/her? Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the founder and chancellor of Yad L’Isha’s parent organization, Ohr Torah Stone. Rabbi Riskin is a visionary pioneer and champion of women’s rights within the realms of Halacha. He has long been pushing the envelope to enable Jewish women to study, teach and even decide upon matters of Halacha. And it is due to his efforts that today there are women advocates in the rabbinical courts today – a position that used to be open only to men.
■ What would you change about Israelis if you could? Not a thing. Israelis are feisty, opinionated and caring – they just need to be steered in the right direction.
■ iPad, BlackBerry or pen and paper? Pen, paper and iPhone.
■ If you had to write an advertisement to entice tourists to come to Israel, what would it say? “Israel – living in interesting times, where history is present.”
■ What is the most serious problem facing the country? Radicalization.
■ How can it be solved? Education. Ignorance breeds radicalization and hate.
■ In 20 years, the country will be: Older and wiser. There will be less polarization, and more diversity of thought and respect for others.