Terra Incognita: Where's the justice for a working-class heroine?

A parking lot attendant is plowed down by a would-be judge - and then finds her conversion annulled.

seth frantzman 88 (photo credit: )
seth frantzman 88
(photo credit: )
It is the basis for all judicial systems throughout the Western world: The Torah enjoins us to "not side with the mighty to pervert justice... nor shall you show deference to a poor man in his dispute" (Exodus 23:2-3). But for Noga Zoraish, an Ethiopian Jewish woman working as a parking lot attendant in 2006, there was no justice and there hasn't been since. In that year, an adult male yeshiva student (an early court order forbidding the release of his name has not yet been lifted) decided he didn't want to pay to leave a supermarket parking lot. He saw a petite black woman working as the attendant and decided that she didn't have the authority to request that he obey the law. When he attempted to commit a crime and simply drive away, she heroically blocked his car with her body. But the student was undeterred and instead of observing the Jewish law he studies, which does not allow for causing bodily harm and requires that restitution be paid in the case of injury, he kept driving, hitting the woman. He drove as she clung to the hood of his car, and then he fled the scene as she fell to the pavement, sustaining head injuries. When tracked down by police, the student committed more crimes by lying to them, even when confronted with videotape showing him bullying and harming the woman. It goes without saying that had this incident happened in Jerusalem and had the student looked like a Palestinian, he would have been shot by pedestrians fearing another vehicular terrorist attack. When the case came up before Judge Moshe Drori in September, he acquitted the student of the various crimes he had committed (although he asked him to do minor community service and pay inconsequential compensation). Drori made the strange, and perhaps racist, remark that "the foundational event of [the victim's] life, in which she was finally accepted into Israeli society as an equal among equals, was the hearing before me." Equal among equals? Is that how we initiate Ethiopians, by hiring them for low-paying jobs, hitting them with cars and then letting those who hit them go free? That is the "foundational event" of their aliya? No, the law should see the yeshiva student and the immigrant as equals and judge them accordingly. ZORAISH CAME up against even worse things than a vicious criminal and a banal judge... something more corrupt. It turns out that the reason Drori did not convict the student was because of fears that the conviction might damage the student's chances of being appointed a rabbinical court judge. In fact Eli Yishai, the head of Shas, had submitted a letter as a character witness on his behalf, encouraging the judge not to harm the reputation of this up-and-coming rabbi. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shmuel Amar also provided character references, as the perpetrator comes from a well-connected family and his father is the chief rabbi of a major city. How many drivers make dangerous swerves to avoid hitting a dog? Yet these religious authorities thought it right that this yeshiva student, capable of cold-bloodedly plowing down a woman, remain on track for a career in a religious court. AND IT gets worse. The Ethiopian woman was lulled into believing that the student was remorseful during the trial. But according to her, he "continues to say all sorts of things about me." Then suddenly on July 8, many months after Drori had acquitted him and Zoraish had accepted his "apology," a rabbinical court annulled Zoraish's conversion to Judaism, which took place six years ago. It seems obvious that in daring to bring charges against the yeshiva student, she had caused some rabbis to look into her background, and when they discovered she was a convert, they found a reason to annul that conversion. This is the height of a disgusting miscarriage of justice on numerous levels. That a yeshiva student can run over a woman and get away with it because of his connections and because a judge doesn't want to harm his career is bad enough. For the yeshiva student to lull the woman into believing he was sorry, only to then slander her, and for a court of supposedly religious Jews to then remove her from the Jewish people all because one of their own hit her with his car to get out of paying a parking tab, violates every tenet of Judaism. One cannot be "deconverted" just because someone with connections has no respect for parking fees or women that get in his way. That is not written in the Talmud or the Torah. It is essential that judges look into the connection between the person who harmed this woman and the fact that her conversion was revoked. Drori failed this poor woman when he acquitted the perpetrator. Justice has failed this woman again and again. But it is written that God "will not acquit the wrongdoer." The writer is a PhD student in geography at the Hebrew University and runs the Terra Incognita blog. sfrantzman@hotmail.com