Kehilat Ya’ar Ramot, a Masorti synagogue in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem, was the scene of a February 23rd lecture entitled “The Israeli Rabbinate, End of an Era?” by Dr. Susan Weiss, founder and director of the CWJ.
About 25 concerned locals gathered for the event, third in a series of lectures to help make communities aware of the dangers, particularly to women, of State control over personal status issues through its rabbinic arm. The talk was organized in partnership with CWJ and hosted by the community, headed by Rabbi Arnie Bender.
Dr. Weiss provided fascinating case studies as she delineated several areas where the State’s coercion of religion had led to violations of human rights including the State’s insistence that women use the mikvah in order to marry legally. She also referred to the government’s practice of blacklisting those children with a mamzer status (children born to a woman as the result of her extramarital relations) and women deemed adulterers. Although the assembled were well-educated on the issue, many audience members were startled to hear that some women have been placed on the adultery blacklist merely as a result of their husbands’ suspicions, with no proof of any misdeeds.
The government’s unfair treatment of Jewish converts was also discussed. Dr. Weiss described situations in which even those who had been converted by the State in Orthodox conversions could not be certain that their status as a Jew was definite. In one case study, Dr. Weiss portrayed the “inquisition” experience women undergo when rabbinic courts grill them to determine if they maintained certain stringent religious practices after conversion.
The theme of system-wide abuse emerged in Dr. Weiss’s lecture as she described the workings of the State’s religious court systems. This was particularly evident, she explained, in its treatment of agunot and women’s rights. Weiss used case studies from her book, “Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State: Israel's Civil Wars” to illustrate the injustices that happen to women who are the mercy of the State's divorce regime, and how CWJ’s pioneering ‘damage suits for get refusal’ have begun to provide recourse and relief.
So what can be done to bring equality and fairness to the Jewish State? Dr. Weiss outlined her vision for an Israel which refrains from coercive religious legislation "not only for the sake of its democracy but also for the sake of its Jewishness." CWJ is helping make this a reality by its work within the court system, both in its tort cases to help women refused aget and in bringing key cases to the Supreme Court.
“[However,] what is needed now is an effort to increase collective awareness,” said Dr. Weiss. She encouraged those concerned with the issue to increase their levels of social action through a host of what she termed “non-violent actions,” including speeches, letters, declarations, petitions and public statements of intent.
“All of you here today are participating in non-violent social action, and we need more of this!” she said. Those assembled were inspired to get further involved and several plans for collaborative projects are now in the works at Kehillat Ya’ar Ramot.
“The more communities get involved and get the word out, the more we are bringing the matter to the forefront. We are beginning to get the silent masses to start speaking up,” she said.
Community lectures are made possible thanks to the generosity of the Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund, David Berg Foundation, Greater Miami Jewish Federation Women’s Amutot Initiative, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, Inc., Jewish Women’s Foundation of South Palm Beach County, and the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation of Greater Washington as well as those donors whose general support provides a secure foundation for advancing the project.