Extending influence: CWJ educating Rabbis


Dr. Susan Weiss delivered a captivating and thought-provoking lecture to Rabbis from around the world. 

The Hartman Institute’s Rabbinic Torah Study Seminars (RTS) was the setting for a three-part elective course taught by CWJ director, Dr. Susan Weiss, in July 2016. RTS is an annual 10-day study program that enriches rabbis of all denominations and nurtures their capacity to inspire their communities.

The lecture series was entitled “How Jewish Identity is Constructed Over the Bodies of Women in Israel.” Each talk centered on a prevalent and disturbing issue in Israeli society. These included: the agunah (woman chained to a non-viable marriage), noafot v’mamzerim (adulteresses and children of Biblically-prohibited marriages) and conversion revocations.

Susan argued that the State of Israel has control over the bodies of women through its rabbinic arm. She brought the issues to life through case studies of CWJ clients.  One example: in the session on agunot, the rabbis’ interest was piqued when Susan described the plight of a woman whose husband refused to give her a get for 12 long years. Although he had acknowledged his homosexuality and had left the marital home, rabbinic courts did little to encourage his giving the writ of divorce. Susan used numerous halachik and legal sources to demonstrate the complexity of the problems in Israel and how CWJ’s legal actions combat them.

As with other CWJ informational talks, sessions were lively with discussion (and disbelief) as participant rabbis, who brought with them a wealth of rabbinic experiences and extensive knowledge, sought and gained greater clarity on how Israeli rabbinic handling of difficult cases differed from that of Diaspora communities.   

With rabbis hailing from locations around the world, the Hartman Institute seminar furnished an outstanding opportunity for CWJ to reach out through rabbinic leaders, to educate Jewish communities and networks about the violations of women’s rights that stem from the entanglement of religion and state in Israel.  By equipping the rabbis with information and understanding about CWJ’s work toward changing the unfair status quo and encouraging them to share this information with their congregants and local activists for social change, CWJ used this opportunity to harness the power of Jews around the world to promote greater gender equality in Israel.

CWJ would like to thank our generous supporters: David Berg Foundation, Greater Miami Jewish Federation Women’s Amutot Initiative, Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta,Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches, Jewish Women’s Foundation of South Palm Beach County, and theKathryn Ames Foundation, as well as donors whose general support provides a secure foundation for advancing our work.Their commitment ensures that our educational message spreads and helps create the desire for lasting change.