May 24, 2024
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My younger daughter Ruthie (24) is in her seventh and final semester of law studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Last year, Ruthie worked on legal matters for Mavoi Satum, an organization that tries to resolve the “dead end” faced by agunot (women whose husbands cannot be located) and mesoravot get (women denied a “get,” the Jewish writ of divorce). The problem is more widespread than one might imagine, and it starts with the fact that there is no civil divorce in Israel. Mavoi Satum estimates that 1 out of every 5 Jewish women seeking divorce in Israel is unable to freely exit her marriage; this amounts to 3,400 women joining the ranks of agunot and mesoravot get each year.

While at Mavoi Satum, Ruthie was instrumental in crafting a bill that would allow for a woman to become director general of Israel’s rabbinical court system (the bill garnered the support of the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, but there is still a long way to go before it becomes law). Here’s what Ruthie has to say about her work with Mavoi Satum:

As a third-year law student, I was looking for a legal job to get my head out of the books and get a feeling of “the real world.” So when I saw a post that Mavoi Satum is looking for a law student for their legal department I applied immediately. A legal job with a very good cause sounded perfect. You might be thinking at this point, as I did, is it really worth having an entire organization solely for this minor problem of mesoravot get? How hard could it be to pressure a husband to give his wife a get? I hate to say it, but in “modern” Israel the answers to these questions are worse than I could have imagined.

Walking into my first staff meeting at Mavoi Satum things began to clear up. The meeting started with plans for Shira’s “mesibat get” (a party for a woman who finally received a get). Shira’s husband had been sitting in jail for several years standing strong in his decision not to give Shira a get, but he finally agreed. Hurray! Now that’s a reason to celebrate, I thought. The staff meeting proceeded on to another woman who had been accused of rejecting her get agreement because she would not consent to the astronomical amount of money that was demanded by her husband (with the rabbinical court’s approval). Hearing the details of this “agreement” we couldn’t help but laugh. Next at the meeting they talked about a mesorevet get who was, unfortunately, also brutally and violently abused. The most fascinating thing to me at the meeting was just to be in the presence of the three women around the table. Three passionate, powerful, and determined women.

Mavoi Satum is more than just representing women against their husbands; it is trying to change an unequal, depressing system. I felt lucky and eager to be a part of this important cause. In order to try to effect change in Israeli marriage and divorce, Mavoi Satum writes law proposals to the Knesset. That was my job. I wrote several law proposals and with every one I wrote I was struck with surprise: No one ever thought of such an obvious law until this day? How could a whole country, with high divorce rates, allow women who file for divorce to be manipulated by their husbands in such an easy and exploitative way? The answer is that most of the laws I wrote were proposed in the past, but they were opposed by the ultra-orthodox parties or were pushed aside by more pressing issues–of those our country has many. So I re-wrote the proposals for re-submission to the Knesset. I admit it was a little discouraging. But change takes time and determination. If those women from Mavoi Satum are willing to devote most of their lives to it, I’m willing to do my fair share too.

Mavoi Satum: http://www.mavoisatum.org

Copyright 2015, Teddy Weinberger

By Teddy Weinberger JLNJ Israel Correspondent

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