Sometimes film is a mirror of reality. Sometimes the reality reflected is very difficult – certainly when it concerns painful subjects such as the problem of agunot and mesuravot get. That was apparently the situation seems, when the film “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” was screened this week to Israel’s rabbinical judges.
“Humiliation and pain” were the words they used to describe how they felt after watching the way in which they had been portrayed. “The film does not reflect reality,” they argued. “This is not our court; our judges are not like that,” said Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, legal advisor to the religious courts.
If there were unrealistic scenes in the movie, they were noted by Yaakobi: judges do not delve into the intimate details of the woman’s life — they do not care if a woman is having an affair with her lawyer – and indeed, the forcible evacuation of a woman from the courtroom by security guards is rare.
But apart from these two scenes, the movie is true and accurate. The film depicts the life of a woman who returns again and again to the rabbinical court – only to leave again and again empty-handed. Viviane Amsalem spends five long years in court as the judges do nothing to her husband as he skips hearings, and urge her repeatedly to make up with him and return home. This is, absolutely and without a doubt, life’s reality for many women.
My pain as a Rabbinical Court Advocate and an attorney who represents agunot and mesuravot get stems from the film’s spotlight on the horrifying problem of women who are blackmailed in the courts, who spend long years of their lives with no significant decision being made, no order compelling a husband who lives apart from his wife to issue her a divorce. No, instead of looking in the mirror and realizing there is a problem that must be solved, the judges instead cling to the inaccuracy of the film’s esoteric details –details which were introduced to the film specifically to emphasize the ludicrous nature of the entire situation.
It seems to escape the notice of the judges that reality has many forms, even when it comes to what transpires in their courtrooms. Although they think there is only one reality, they must look in the eyes of these women being refused a divorce and accept that for them, it is difficult and painful. These women, who are so often blackmailed into unequal distributions of joint property, extorted into giving up on child support, required to agree to changes in custody or visitation agreements for the sake of their freedom – these women all live the harsh reality of Viviane Amsalem.
As one who has been involved in hundreds of cases over the years, I see every day how the conduct of the rabbinical judges leaves women feeling that they have lower status than men. Rather than labeling these women “problematic” or “provocative,” as they often do, the judges should try to understand that they are fighting for their lives and the future of their children.
For most problematic cases there are appropriate halachic solutions, but in order to implement them we need judges with broad shoulders and great halachic courage. In all their rulings, the judges mention the response of Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi, which says that if a couple has lived apart for a year and a half, they must be divorced. They all mention it, but none of them will rule that way – and why not? I believe that in our current system there are rabbinical judges endowed with vision and creativity, but they are unfortunately few in number and are afraid to express ideas that are perceived as “revolutionary” in public, lest they be attacked by rabbis from the “halachic mainstream.”
So instead of expressing “humiliation and pain” at the way in which they were depicted in the film, perhaps the time has come to understand the humiliation and pain of the agunot and mesuravot get who are fighting for their basic rights, their property and their freedom. Maybe then they will find in themselves the halachic courage they need to end the suffering.
To mark Aguna Day 2015 Yad L’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, in partnership with the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, invites the public to a screening of the movie “Gett: The Trial of Vivianne Amsalem” on Tuesday 3 March, to be preceded by a panel discussion. The event is free of charge but requires registration.
For more information: http://ots.org.il/yom-haaguna-2015/