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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

700,000 NIS: Latest Award to Woman Whose Husband Refused to Give Her A Get

On December 14, 2008, Judge Tova Sivan of the Tel Aviv Family Court accepted our petition for damages (700,000 NIS) in compensation for the pain and suffering that our client endured because her husband refused to give her a get. Justice Sivan rendered this decision despite the fact that the rabbinic court had not ordered the husband to divorce his wife. In fact, the rabbinic court had denied her request for such an order.

The woman was married in 1997. After only 3 months (!) of marriage, she ran away from her husband who had subjected her to severe physical violence. For the past 11 years (!), the parties have been in litigation in the rabbinic courts. Despite the long period of separation, and the harsh allegations that the wife has made against the husband, the rabbinic court did not order the husband to give a get, but has merely maintained that it was his "moral obligation" to do so (a mitvah).

CWJ argued before the Family Court that withholding the get is tantamount to the intentional infliction of emotional distress; prevents a woman from going forward with her life in a reasonable and orderly manner; is an unconscionable use of religious power; and is a severe infringement on our client's liberty.

The Hon. Tova Sivan rejected the defendant's defense that he should not be obligated to pay damages so long as there is no rabbinic order that he must give the get; and that should such damages be awarded, they would serve as the basis for invalidating the get under Jewish law (the invalid forced divorce-- get meuseh) . She held that the wife's damage claim is a tort irrespective of any rabbinic order, and without regard to the question of the 'forced divorce.'

This is the first time that the Family Court has awarded damages for get recalcitrance to a woman whose petition to order her husband to give her a get was denied. This decision is yet another example of how the legal discourse in the Israeli courts is changing; and is a clear statement from our civil courts that get refusal is a tortious act that Israeli society will not tolerate.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The great and equivocal vanishing trick of Israeli women

Below is an op-ed piece that I wrote in today's Jerusalem Post. Among other things, I describe how the Jerusalem Labor Court (November 28, 2008) accepted CWJ's motion to dismiss a discriminatory employment tender for "legal assistants" to rabbinic judges.

The Labor Court's decision is an important milestone in CWJ's relentless insistence that the rights of women, as well as their presence, be considered, recognized, and affirmed in Israeli rabbinic courts. Unfortunately, as described below, the various arms of the Israeli state are not consistant in their protection of the rights of women.

The great and equivocal vanishing trick of Israeli women
Dec. 9, 2008Susan Weiss , THE JERUSALEM POST

Last August my husband and I spent 10 days in Istanbul. For the weekend, we took a ferry to the island of Büyükada, the Turkish equivalent of Martha's Vineyard. There tourists of all persuasions stand in line for the horse-and-buggy ride up to the top of the island and rub shoulders in the town square to take family pictures.

Time and again, we saw Muslim men wearing jeans, sneakers and baseball caps, mugging for the camera with their multiple wives clad in identical, formless chadors with only their eyes peeping through the endless folds of cloth. How, we wondered, could they possibly tell one wife apart from the next when they got home? The women were one big, black, indistinguishable, polyester blur - veiled and virtually invisible.

The great vanishing trick of Muslim women behind the weight of the chador is a bit heavy-handed and obvious. We in Israel are much more subtle. We eliminate our women with élan, delicacy - and equivocation.

For example: The High Court of Justice has held that it is okay for state-subsidized buses to operate lines that require women to sit in the back of the bus - out of sight's way - to accommodate the "religious sensibilities" of the haredi population. Thus the State of Israel allows its women to vanish in sophisticated deference to multiculturalism.

For example: State laws and taxpayer money support rabbinic courts that do not allow women to sit on the bench. Taking express reservation to article 7(b) of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Israel defends its purge of women judges from the rabbinic courts as follows: "[T]he appointment of women to serve as judges of religious courts is prohibited by the laws of any of the religious communities in Israel." Thus the State of Israel allows its women to vanish in the name of religious laws.

For example: Aside from being precluded from acting as rabbinic judges, women have virtually disappeared from inside the rabbinic courts. There's only one female court reporter in all of the rabbinic courts; there are no women bailiffs. And until recently, there were no women clerks at all in Petah Tikva. The secretary of the Petah Tikva rabbinic court is quoted as saying: "It has been our custom in Petah Tikva that the clerks are all men, and we should not break down that long-held barrier to employ a woman in any position in our rabbinic court." Thus the State of Israel allows its women to vanish by custom.

THOUGH THE state has become rather adept at its erudite elimination of women, it does not engage in its great magic act of the disappearing Israeli woman without equivocation.

Thus when Egged recently refused to run bus ads with the pictures of women who were candidates for Jerusalem city council citing "religious sensibilities," the High Court did not think this was okay. It accepted the Reform Movement's motion to force the publication of those ads. And when the executive office of the rabbinic courts and the Civil Service Commission published tenders for the position of legal advisers to rabbinic judges in 2007, and again in 2008, effectively marking the position with an asterisk that gave preference to those applicants who had qualified as rabbinic judges (men), the Jerusalem Labor Court balked at the affront.

In 2007, the Center for Women's Justice appealed to the court to withdraw the tenders as discriminatory and the rabbinic courts and the Civil Service Commission immediately capitulated, agreeing to rewrite them. Last month, when the rewritten, new version of the tenders fell short, Judge Yaffa Stein heard the case and accepted CWJ's second petition, stating: "Giving preference to those who are qualified to be rabbinic judges is discriminatory and unreasonable given the fact that women can't achieve this preference, no matter how talented they may be."

If it's so clear to us modern-Westernized-Israeli world travelers that the chador chokes and obliterates Muslim women, it's time that we modern-Westernized-Israeli world travelers, as well as our state courts and institutions, observe and eliminate - without equivocation - our more sophisticated versions of the same.