A man who deserves banning

November 24, 2016 23:21

Earlier this month, the London Beth Din took the unprecedented step of placing an advertisement in this newspaper publicising the fact that it had banned from entering any constituent synagogue of the United Synagogue one John Abayahoudayan, who has apparently for the past 15 years refused to issue a get to his wife Rivkah . The couple were divorced civilly in 2002. But unless Abayahoudayan issues the get, his wife will never be able to remarry under Orthodox auspices.

She was, and remains, an agunah - a ''chained'' woman. Should she enter into a new relationship, any resulting child will be a mamzer - a bastard, subject to severe halachic penalties.

A get must be freely given. So one could argue that, in view of the penalty to which he is now subject - exclusion from all constituents of the United Synagogue - Abayahoudayan is being put under duress, and that should he issue a get, its validity must therefore be open to question. I have no doubt that the learned dayanim of the London Beth Din pondered long over this very matter before placing the advert. Indeed, they have hinted that further sanctions are open to them.

The advert itself invites us all to consider whether it is "inappropriate" for any of us "to have social or business contacts" with Abayahoudayan while he continues with his obstinacy. And Beth Din caseworker Joanne Greenaway has correctly observed that, since US bye-laws provide for the right for membership to be terminated where a husband has been ruled by the Beth Din to be unreasonably withholding a get, the husband might well find himself denied the right of burial in a United Synagogue cemetery. "The Beth Din," she observed "is fully prepared to make use of this sanction."

I'm not competent to judge whether gittin granted under these circumstances are kosher. But, in the 1990s, the Federation of Synagogues Beth Din issued an ostracism order against a recalcitrant husband, who eventually relented and presented his wife with a get. And, in Israel, obdurate husbands are not infrequently thrown into jail, or have their passports confiscated until they relent.

Not even my wife would be able to come within four cubits of me

Are there other circumstances in which religious sanctions might be regarded as appropriate? Some 30 years ago, the then chief rabbi of the United Synagogue, Immanuel Jakobovits, threatened to place my good self under a cherem following my public criticism of him in the case of the late rabbi Simcha Lieberman, who had been summarily dismissed (with Jakobovits's approval) from his teaching post at Jews' College. While a cherem - a ban - is not the same as full excommunication, it would have meant that no one - not even my wife - would have been able to approach within four cubits of me. Lieberman was a Gerer chasid. So I was grateful that the then Gerer Rebbe, Simcha Bunem Alter intervened on my behalf, and threatened to issue a cherem against Jakobovits!

But I can think of someone fully deserving of a cherem: the Right Honourable Gerald Kaufman, Labour MP for the Gorton division of Manchester and a professing Jew. Kaufman's suitability for the cherem treatment does not in my view rest upon his innumerable criticisms of the state of Israel. He is fully entitled to these opinions, and to voice them.

However, in alleging at a "Palestine Return Centre" event in Parliament on October 27 that "Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative Party… bias the Conservatives", I do believe that he has crossed a red line: he has publicly defamed the Jewish people. John Mann, the Labour MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, has denounced Kaufman's spite-laden comments as "the incoherent ramblings of an ill-informed demagogue." And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has condemned Kaufman's remarks as "completely unacceptable and deeply regrettable."

Kaufman is known to be a synagogue attender. In 2002, on Rosh Hashanah, he was famously verbally abused by fellow congregants at the St John's Wood United Synagogue. A ban on him ever again entering a United synagogue, or being buried under United Synagogue auspices, besides being long overdue, would be widely applauded and fully deserved.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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