- 1 CWJ Staff
- 2 Board of Directors
The Public Litigation Project addresses the problem of Israeli women living under religious laws. These include the issues of the agunah (woman denied divorce), mamzer (child born to adulterous women), and converts (usually women). The Social Awareness Project promotes education and publicity activities in order to promote knowledge and education about the dynamics of marriage, divorce and personal status issues in Jewish law, and in order to advocate for change. Since its inception, CWJ has set numerous precedents, has led the movement for social awareness, and empowered hundreds of women in Israel.
In Israel, where religion and state are intertwined, Jewish women are subject to practices and policies applied by rabbinical courts, which have exclusive jurisdiction over matters of personal status. This means that any Jewish woman, anywhere in Israel, can be harmed in the name of religion: a Jewish woman cannot get divorced without her husband's consent (the agunah). Children born as the result of an extramarital union are stigmatized as mamzerim (singular: mamzer) who are blacklisted and cannot marry fellow Jews. Converts are held to unreasonably strict standards, with recent court decisions revoking conversions of those who don't adhere to religious law.
The fundamentalist approach of Israel's ultra-Orthodox judges leaves little room for the due process and human rights which define a democratic country. Yet, Israeli civil courts (Family Courts, Labor Court, High Court, Supreme Court of Justice) have traditionally deferred to rabbinic courts and rabbinic authorities when religious sentiments clash with modern democratic principles, ignoring or even upholding discriminatory rulings in deference to religious law and policies. Any Jewish woman, anywhere in Israel - regardless of age, religious background, socio-economic class or education – can become the victim of unjust and discriminatory rulings by the rabbinic courts, or activities of the rabbinic establishment.
The Public Interest Litigation Project, which is working to "bring the state back in" and rouse Israel's civil court system to respond to unjust infringements on women's rights that are ignored, or even imposed, in deference to religious law. This project addresses the abuse of Jewish women in which a woman’s only way out of a dead or abusive marriage can be giving in to extortion – paying for freedom rather than waiting for a get. If a husband is incapacitated, abusive or simply vengeful, a woman can be stuck indefinitely without a divorce, unable to remarry and rebuild her life. Thus, by working for systemic change, CWJ is addressing the underlying factors that can turn any woman’s life into an endless nightmare and work to bring freedom to thousands of women in Israel.
Susan Weiss is the founder and Executive Director of CWJ. Susan has been actively working to find solutions for the problems of Jewish women and divorce for over 20 years, first as a private attorney, then as the founder and director of Yad L'Isha from 1997-2004, and now as the founder and executive director of CWJ. Susan initiated the innovative tactic of filing damage cases against recalcitrant husbands in the Israeli civil courts, is an editor of The Law and its Decisor (a quarterly journal published by Bar Ilan University Law School), and has written extensively about Jewish women and divorce. Susan is an attorney with an MA in sociology and anthropology and is currently a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University.
Rivkah Lubitch is the Director of the CWJ Haifa office and coordinator of the Social Awareness program. Rivkah writes CWJ's weekly press column for NRG–Maariv and has a regular column in the Judaism department of Ynet. She is a veteran rabbinic pleader, has an MA in the history of the Jewish people,and writes and lectures extensively about feminism and religion. She believes that it is possible to reconcile feminist notions of justice with Jewish values. It is hard for her to accept the injustices done to women in the name of the Jewish religion. Rivka believes that her struggle for change is part of tikkun olam -- making the world a better place.
Yifat Frankenburg, a member of the legal department, is is an attorney and lecturer in family law at Bar Ilan University. Yifat who holds an MA in law from Bar Ilan University, and clerked for Judge Nili Maimon of the Jerusalem Family Court. After she sat in on a hearing in one of CWJ's tort cases against recalcitrant husbands, Yifat decided that she wanted to join CWJ. She feels that the work she does is meaningful and important work and has significant consequences for the status of Israeli women.
Yoske Ahitov is a renowned scholar in the area of Jewish law and philosophy and is a senior research fellow at the Hartman Institute. Yoske teaches at the Kibbutz Hadati in Ein Tzurim. He has an MA in Jewish Philosophy and Israeli History.
Anita Bernstein works at Brooklyn Law School, where she is the Anita and Stuart Subotnick Professor of Law. She teaches torts, legal ethics, and a course on the law of marriage. Anita is the editor of "Marriage Proposals," a book of essays published by NYU Press.
Sara Craimer has broad management experience with international startup companies in operations, finance and human recourses. She has a BA in sociology and an MA in social work.
Dr. Aviad HaCohen, a graduate of Yeshivat HaKotel and Har Zion, serves as the Dean of the Shaarei Mishpat Law College, teaches at the Hebrew University, and is the CEO of the Mosaica-Research Center for Religion, Society and State.
Leah Kraus works for the city of Jerusalem as the district welfare officer responsible for professional reports . She is a social worker with an MA from Hebrew University and is an expert in the area of rehabilitation.
Tova Osofsky is the manager of Isratec, a company that provides marketing research, writing, and strategic planning services to the high-tech industry. She has an MBA from the Kellog School of Business in marketing and decision sciences.
Rabbi Dr. Ariel Picard has a B.A. in Talmud, and an MA in hermeneutics and cultural studies. Ariel wrote his PhD thesis on “The Decisions of Rav Ovadia Yoseph in the Context of Changing Times.” Today he teaches in the program for the renewal of Judaism in the Hartman Institute and heads the "Hadarim" project.
has an MA in communications (specializing in translation) from the Hebrew University. Yehudit was the CEO of the Shalom Hartman Institute for 7 years and is now the director of publications for the Institute.
Barbara Sofer, veteran journalist and author, has written five books and is currently a bi-weekly columnist for the Jerusalem Post. She serves as the spokesperson and director of public relations for Hadassah, an Zionist Women’s Organization in the United States.
Professor Danny Statman teaches in the philosophy department in Haifa University. His field of expertise are ethics, jurisprudence and modern Jewish philosophy.
Miriam Zussman manages bonds-investment portfolios for the Jennison Company (a private American pension fund) and holds Bachelors' and Masters' Degrees in Business Administration from NYU.
Read Susan's articles:
Sign at Your Own Risk: the "RCA" Prenuptial May Prejudice the Fairness of Your Future Divorce Settlement
in Cardozo Women's Law Journal, Vol. 6, p. 49 (1999) (comparing 6 different prenuptial agreements suggested to ameliorate the plight of the agunah)
Israeli Divorce Law:
The Maldistribution of Power, its Abuses, and the Status of Jewish Women,
in MEN AND WOMEN: GENDER, JUDAISM AND DEMOCRACY, (Rachel Elior, ed., (2004). (giving an overview of the problem of the agunah in Israeli Society).
Demystification of Women's Head Covering in Jewish Law." in Nashim 17:89-115 (2009) (linking head covering and the problem of Jewish Women and divorce ).