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The Chained Women: When Religion And The State Intersect

1117 words - 5 pages

The Chained Women: When Religion and the State Intersect

When Israel was conceived as a Jewish state, questions arose over the division between the religious and the secular. Judaism is grounded in halakha, a detailed set of laws which guides observant Jews, but debate continues over whether Israel should adopt these religious laws to govern a largely secular population. Contradictions exist between the ancient laws and modern ideals, especially regarding women’s rights. Most developed states strive to enact laws that treat men and women fairly, but in Israel, where the rabbinical courts still adhere to ancient Jewish law, women’s rights suffer. Divorce laws in ...view middle of the document...

According to the Israel Women’s Network, “estimates of the number of ‘anchored’ women in Israel today vary, the rabbinate claiming that there are ‘only’ some 500, while women’s organizations claim that there are thousands” (IWN). Even the conservative estimate of 500 women in this situation is far too large, and the number is likely to be much higher. Yet very little is being done for these women either by the secular government or the religious courts, both of which could take steps to help these women.

Receiving a get will always be necessary for orthodox women who strictly observe halakha, but in Israel this formality applies to all Jewish women, whether they are secular or orthodox, conservative or reform. All marriages must be performed by orthodox rabbis, therefore all divorces must be brought before the rabbinical courts. These courts have tremendous power in Israel. Their rulings bear the weight of law in this state where religion and government intersect. Rabbinical courts have the unique power, unavailable elsewhere in the world, to compel the giving or acceptance of a get through the use of fines, imprisonment, or both (Haut 85). The courts can also choose to impose sanctions; they have the power to withdraw driver’s licenses and credit cards, or prohibit exit from Israel (IWN). However, many courts are reluctant to impose sanctions in the first place. When it comes to rabbinical courts in Israel, “the judges are halakhic conservatives, reluctant to use the power of Jewish law” (Gross). If the courts refuse to apply what pressure they can to these men, then they are even less likely to release there “chained” wives who desire nothing more than to proceed with their lives.

Rabbinical courts and halakhic law do a disservice to women by placing women’s stories in the hands of men. Women in Judaism points out how women are silenced under the current system:

A woman tells her story to her husband. He brings it to a rabbi. The rabbi brings it to another rabbi, who considers the rulings of his predecessors. Then he tells the original rabbi what to tell the husband. The husband tells the woman whether she may still be his wife or not. (University of Toronto)

If no one is listening to the women, their situation has...

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