Broken Tablets

The Aspaklaria Theatre, founded by Hagay Lober, has accomplished an amazing feat. In the Hebrew language production of Shivrei Luchot – Broken Tablets, two very difficult and uncomfortable subjects are tackled – the seemingly unsolvable problem of the agunah (a wife chained in a Jewish marriage to her husband lying in a permanent vegetative state) and the tragic condition of early onset dementia. The intertwining of these two realities, both courageously dealt with by the character of Rabbi Aryeh (Yiftach Kaminer) flawlessly pulls the viewers into both of the oh-so complex realities, leaving the audience with profound painful lessons on the value of an individual.

Through a cast of only five characters, Aspaklaria succeeded in creating an accurate, deep picture of Israeli society in general and specifically of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leadership in Israel. The compassionate and brilliant halakhic decisor, true to his God given directive to bring salvation to the oppressed through his knowledge of Jewish law, is condemned by his brother-in-law/competitor as well as his own son who are led by the dictates of their world. Representing yet another layer of society’s downtrodden, is the rabbi’s faithful, simpleton attendant – who proves to be the one who fully reflects the venerable rabbi’s compassion, in keeping with the Torah’s guidelines.

Playwright Orit Gal Lichtenstadt brilliantly portrayed the exact manner in which the ultra-Orthodox world reacted to an actual ruling of the Rabbinical Court in Tzfat in 2017. In a groundbreaking approach, the Rabbinical Court awarded, a get-zikui – a writ of Jewish divorce to the benefit of the husband who lay in a permanent vegetative state, assuming that he would not want his wife to suffer, chained to him in marriage for her entire life. The play accurately reflected the attacks on the rabbi who issued this controversial ruling and the attempts to destroy his career. By effortlessly explaining the complex laws involved in freeing the agunah, coupled with the exact language used by ultra-Orthodox society viciously attacking the perceived threat, the viewer comes to understand how lives are ruined from within this closed society.

In the play, those opposing the forty-nine year old rabbi’s courageous action, contend that his early dementia formed the basis of his ruling. This conflict, in and of itself, hastens the development of the illness. Thus the manner in which the individual himself and those who surround him deal with the developing tragedy, is painfully examined.

These two phenomena which threaten the ultra-Orthodox world– the agunah attaining her freedom and the rabbi’s early-onset demetia – are interwoven seamlessly. The tragic result of the fearless actions rescuing the unseen agunah who had been doomed to anonymity, leads to the rabbi actually becoming unseen himself. He is unseen on two levels – in the vociferous rejection of the principles he holds to be true and through his society’s discarding him within his dementia. It becomes apparent that those who felt for the agunah all along, continue to hold the rabbi in high regard, relating to him as a worthy person even in his broken state.

The Talmud (Menahot 99a) teaches us that the divine tablets given at Sinai together with the broken tablets (thrown to the ground by Moses at the sight of the golden calf) are laid in the holy ark. From this the Talmud learns that one does not humiliate a Torah scholar who has lost his knowledge. On this basis, Broken Tablets has brought us two deep lessons bound together – how to live one’s life with full conviction; and to see the worth of the individual even from within his or her affliction. Those who see Broken Tablets will be grateful to Aspaklaria for giving us glimpses of the human essence as well as societal interaction usually hidden from the outside world.

About the Author
Rachel Levmore, PhD in Talmud and Jewish Law from Bar Ilan University, is the director of the Agunah and Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency; one of the authors of the prenuptial "Agreement for Mutual Respect"; author of "Min'ee Einayich Medim'a" on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal; and the first female Rabbinical Court Advocate to serve on the Israel Commission for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges.
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