“Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court

The nameless woman burst onto the stage of the Israeli Rabbinical courts on a sunny Sunday morning in April. Prior to that day she had played her role as a typical victim of get-refusal, drawing no special attention.

For four years she was refused a get by her husband. Suddenly, the husband agreed to grant her the freedom for which she literally crossed oceans, as she had flown in from France specifically to attend the Court session and was scheduled to leave on the morrow. That is all that is relevant from the spectator’s point of view. The details of who she is, what her husband demanded of her or what tactics were employed are not relevant. Any human being, specifically any Jew and all the more so any Rabbinical Court Judge or clerk should immediately, passionately and avidly do everything in their power to facilitate the get.

But the “system” failed to do so. The presiding Rabbinical Court Judge indeed immediately authorized the divorce agreement the couple had unexpectedly reached as the husband had inexplicably shown up in the court and agreed to give the get (providing that the wife gave up


of her rights to the joint assets of the marriage, which she agreed to do). Following that, however, instead of proceeding quickly to arrange the get ceremony as is to be expected, the judge sent the couple to the clerks to find a judge who would arrange the get. As it was the first day of “Rosh Chodesh” the judge refused to arrange the get himself.

(Explanation: In the Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer 126, 6 the “mechaber”, Rav Yosef Karo, explains how to explicitly write the date of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, whether the first day or the second. The fear is that if one writes “Rosh Chodesh” then there will be confusion as to the exact date the get was administered and that confusion can invalidate the get later on. Nevertheless, the Ashkenazic Rema, Rav Moshe Isserlish, comments that there are those who do not write a get on any Rosh Chodesh, and it is advisable to side with that policy unless it is a situation where there is a fear of Iggun – a chained woman.)

Not only did the presiding judge refuse to arrange a get, the clerks in the Rabbinical Court asserted that they could not find any other judge who would agree to do so. At this point the drama shifted outside the walls of the Rabbinical Court. The lawyer representing the agunah called a peer for advice, a toenet rabbanit. She, in turn, posted the story briefly on a Facebook page for Orthodox feminists. The outrage was instantaneous. Word spread like wildfire through the social media — WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and emails. Phone calls started pouring in to anyone in a position of authority with whom a given individual had a connection: Members of Knesset, Directress of the Rabbinical Courts Administration, the Chief Rabbi’s office, members of the Committee for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges, learned rabbis. Indeed, MK Aliza Lavie tried to help and held an interview with the press. Vice-Minister of Religion, MK Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan put up a post on his facebook page. Others made attempts, each in their own way in the ensuing hours. None of the aforementioned seemed to bring about the desired resolution.

The woman was saved by the resourcefulness of a learned rabbi by the name of Rav Yaakov Haviv. When word reached him, as a sensitive man who has helped resolve agunah situations in the past, Rav Haviv’s heart was touched. He immediately recognized the outrageousness of the situation and the actual danger to the agunah. Rav Haviv took action and called a Rabbinical Court Judge who had just finished working in the Jerusalem Court — the very same Court where the hapless agunah awaited an unknown savior. The judge, Rav Eliyahu Abergel, heard the desperate story from Rav Haviv. Without further ado, the Honorable Rav Abergel called the couple to his courtroom and arranged the get. The woman was finally freed from her chains after four years and one very long day.

This story will be used by both politicians and ideologues as a demonstration of their goals: HaBayit Hayehudi politicos will say the Religious-Zionists must maintain control over the religious services in the State (and they are right); Champions of civil marriage in Israel will claim unequivocally that this would not have happened if the woman had married under a State offered civil marriage (which is correct); Promoters of prenuptial agreements for exactly this purpose of prevention of get-refusal (such as myself) will say “if she would have signed on the Heskem l’Kavod HadadiI the get-refusal wouldn’t have arisen (also true); The International Coalition of Agunah Rights will clamor “this petition must be signed so that coalition agreement negotiations will not include giving the ultra-Orthodox political parties a clear majority in the Commission for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges with the intent of outnumbering the women members (which indeed should be signed). This story is so egregious that it suits all of these claims and then some.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned is the power of the people, through the technical power of the internet. It is the people using the social networks which led to the individuals, who had the ability to help, to become aware of the call for their action. Simply put — “People Pressure” can move the immoveable.

There are so many disturbing points in this actual life-threatening story. If we keep in mind that the court where this transpired is a court of Jewish Law, one cannot but bring up the biblical commandment: Tzedek tzedek tirdof (Deuteronomy 16, 20)

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף, לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ

“Justice justice shall you pursue so that you shall live and inherit the land that Hashem your Elokim gives to you.” Note the title chosen for G-d in this context, Elokim, is the one associated with judging – it is also used in its lay sense to mean judges. The entire context of the passage is that of courts and judges, at the same time that the commandment is directed to every individual. But why twice Justice? To convey the message that justice should be done and justice should be seen in an apparent manner. In this case the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem failed to do so. Instead of the judges pursuing tzedek, the agunah and her representatives had to run after the judges. Is this the Israeli reality’s new interpretation of Tzedek tzedek tirdof — Justice justice shall you pursue?

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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