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Sunday, 19 August 2007

PM urges compromise on agunot bill

PM urges compromise on agunot bill


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Sunday on religious and secular
cabinet ministers to reach a compromise on legislation that would expand
Rabbinic Court jurisdiction in divorce cases.
While dozens of feminists demonstrated against the bill outside the
Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Olmert, speaking in the weekly
cabinet meeting, called on Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Isaac
Herzog (Labor) and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas)
to work together with Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, a former member
of Shinui.
Olmert told them to reach a compromise that would be acceptable to both
the Orthodox establishment and liberal legislators and women's activists.
The bill, which would give the Rabbinic Courts wider jurisdiction in
financial issues in divorce cases, was approved as a government bill by
the Ministerial Committee on Legislation last week.
Jewish Israelis are marry and divorce in Israel according to Orthodox
Jewish law. According to Jewish law, a woman is not permitted to remarry
unless her husband gives her a get (writ of divorce). If her husband is
intransigent, the woman is called an aguna, meaning "chained."
The Orthodox religious establishment wants the Rabbinic Courts to have
the right to arbitrate on monetary matter in divorce cases, according to
Jewish law.
But women's rights groups, which view the Rabbinic Courts as chauvinist
and prejudiced in favor of the husbands, see any widening of the courts'
jurisdiction as necessarily discriminatory.
Sunny Calev of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the
Reform Movement, said women had a subordinate status in Jewish law.
"Ideas like equality before the law, freedom of speech and equal
opportunity simply do not exist in Orthodox Jewish law," said Calev. "A
woman's position is improved infinitely if her case is heard by a civil
court or a court that rules according to civil, secular law."
Reut Una-Tsameret, head of public activities for Mavoi Satum, an
organization that aims to help women receive fair treatment in the
Rabbinic Court system, said these courts often made the granting of a
divorce writ [get] conditional on the woman's willingness to give up
some of her financial rights.
"These are benefits that she rightly deserves from her divorcee," she said.
Una-Tsameret said Rabbinic Courts regularly threatened women with the
loss of child support and alimony payments unless they agreed to receive
a divorce writ according to the conditions set by the court.
Rabbinic Courts Administration spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said the
proposed legislation would simply maintain the status quo.
"The Supreme Court recently overturned decades of precedent during which
the Rabbinic Courts litigated in monetary matters connected with the
divorce process, even after the husband gave his ex the divorce writ,"
Orbach said.
"This bill simply anchors in law what has been common practice for a
long time now."

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