Imagine an Israeli film which won Israel’s top cinema award and is nominated for international awards (Israeli Film Academy’s 2014 Best Film award; Nominated for this year’s Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film; Israel’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award). Now imagine that the film’s backdrop is one very drab room without a change of scenery whatsoever nor any props or external action. Consider that any film’s most important element is the subject on which it focuses—in this case ancient Jewish divorce law. How does all this come together to produce an award winning film, a gripping drama which not only captures the interest of Jewish audiences to whom the subject matter is relevant, but draws in international viewers into experiencing the angst of an average Jewish woman seeking a divorce from her unremarkable husband?
Such is the 2014 production of siblings Ronit and Shlomi Alkabetz “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem“. Taking place over several years in a typical dreary Israeli courtroom of the State Rabbinical Court, it exposes an intimate drama of the interpersonal relations between Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Alkabetz) who is begging both her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) and the three venerable Rabbinic Judges, for her freedom in the form of a Jewish writ of divorce—a get. Viviane has to appease both categories of men – her husband and the Rabbinic Court Judges – in order to bring them both to agree to arrange the divorce. But, alas, Viviane has no clear-cut grounds for divorce that she is capable of delineating, which the Court requires in order to issue a ruling obligating Elisha to give her a get. So Elisha drags her through her own private purgatory, refusing at various stages to give her the writ she so desperately wants and needs.
A critical undercurrent which is generally overlooked is the Catch-22 situation in which Viviane finds herself – like so many other victims of get-refusal: On the one hand, the husband has refused to give the wife a get – over which he has total control. On the other hand, a woman suing for divorce has to bring the Rabbinic Court to agree to arrange a get, since by both Jewish law and Israeli civil law it has sole jurisdiction over matters of marriage and divorce. That being the case the woman has to disclose to the Court her husband’s “dirty secrets” in order to prove fault in him, as is required by Jewish law. However, having his secrets revealed to a panel of respected authorities can enrage a husband – causing him to react vindictively, saying “Now you’ll really never see a get!”. As common knowledge states: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the case of Elisha Amsalem, this indeed proves to be true.
The proof of the complex pudding is the reaction of the viewer as he or she exits the theater – “The movie went on too long, it was draining, why couldn’t it be a bit shorter?” Immediately the very next thought which dawns on the viewer is – “If it made me anxious for 116 minutes with my kishkes demanding ‘nu, give her the get already!‘ then imagine how a woman feels going through this for a year, three years, five years or more!” not only is the point made intellectually, but it remains inside the psyche.
Go see the film if you haven’t done so. As International Agunah Day approaches on March 4th, now is indeed an appropriate time to view it. After experiencing a taste of the abuse victims of get-refusal have gone through, make sure that every marrying couple signs a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal: In Israel—The Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi found at www.iyim.org.il/prenup/ and in the US the Binding Arbitration Agreement of the Beth Din of America found at www.theprenup.org/ . Jewish society will thank you and the Alkabetz siblings.
To understand the inner workings of the State Rabbinical Courts—”Beit Hillel” and the International Young Israel Movement in Israel will be convening a Hebrew panel discussion marking Agunah Day at 8:00 PM on Tuesday Feb. 24th in Ohel Ari, Ravutski 98 Raanana. Speakers will include Rav Ronen Neuwirth, Attn’y Tzuriel Boublil, Dayan Yair Ben-Menachem, Dr. Avishalom Westreich and this author, Dr. Rachel Levmore.
Gett will be screened as part of the 25th annual Washington Jewish Film Festival, hosted by the Washington DCJCC on Feb 25th at 8:45 p.m. at the Avalon Theatre. www.wjff.org