The JC Letters Page May 19 2017

Sarah Farrier-Rabstein,Rabbi Lionel Broder, Martin D. Stern, Ekaterina Mitiaev, Harold Schogger, and Doctor Anthony Joseph share their views with JC readers

May 19, 2017 16:22

Marriage and divorce in Israel: why succumb to practices that denigrate your rights?

I read Alona Ferber‘s account of her travails while preparing for marriage under rabbinic law in Israel with increasing frustration.

While sympathising to a degree, I wished she’d been able to plan her wedding day so as to avoid colluding with such reprehensible practices. I also wished her fiancé had kicked up a fuss with the rabbinate that might resonate with others in the same boat who could catalyse a national change. 

Why any woman privileged with a sense of liberal democratic values would by default willingly denigrate her own rights, even notionally, has always been beyond me. Husbands who tacitly uphold this skewed status quo are in my opinion unmarriageable in the first place. The same can be said for any marriage contract in this country that permits the husband to offer or withhold a get.

When I get married in two weeks’ time, we are adopting a Jewish Humanist approach where both celebrants are equal: we will still smash the glass to symbolise that our joy is tempered by our collective losses as a people and as a family; instead of the chupah as a metaphor of our new home together (factually incorrect as we have already been living together for 20 years) we are using a wonderful book arch made up of various branches of human knowledge and endeavour, interleaved with glorious flowers to represent the natural world to which we are heir and to which we shall all return.

Let’s retain the beautiful and sane aspects of our culture and move on from the rest. 

Wish me mazel!

Sarah Farrier-Rabstein,
London N20

Halachah can never sanction the dissolution of a Jewish marriage, neither by a rabbinical court nor a lay one.

However, halachah should demand that the conditions of marriage agreed by the husband should be rigorously upheld.

Honouring one’s wife and providing for her maintenance are mandatory and should be halachically enforceable.

Hence, violation of these obligations that undoubtedly cause distress to one’s wife should be regarded as “criminal” acts and should be subject to payments of fines and damages.

Rabbi Lionel Broder, 
London NW4

Like, no doubt most of your readers, I was appalled by your front-page report that Zvia Gordetsky’s husband has preferred to spend 16 years in jail rather than give her a get as ordered by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

However, her supporter Alisa Coleman is incorrect to claim: “The rabbis of the Bet Din have to find a way of releasing her as her husband will never do it.”

It is not the rabbinate that is at fault since it has done everything permitted under Israeli law. The halachic way to deal with such recalcitrant husbands is to apply, in the last resort, the penalty of makkot mardut [flogging for contempt of court].

Might I suggest that the Knesset should pass a law that would allow for such flogging whenever a husband has spent a year in jail for get refusal.

Probably taking him to the place of flogging, stripping him and showing him the lash would be sufficient to make him change his mind. If not, the first lash might have the desired effect. 

This could continue in extreme cases ad sheteitzei nafsho, as the Rambam rules, in which case his wife would be automatically released as a widow.

This procedure may be distasteful to Western audiences but, if they baulk at using it, they have no right for blaming the Rabbinate for the situation of ladies like Mrs Gordetsky.

Martin D. Stern, 
Salford M7

Life in Ukraine

Like many readers, I was disturbed to read your report last week: Ukrainian general calls for destruction of Jews .
Incidents like these are revolting — and there have been a number of high-profile examples in Ukraine over the last few years — but must be set in context. Jews in Ukraine are neither living in fear nor fleeing their homeland.

The communities that World Jewish Relief supports are proud to be both Ukrainian and Jewish and don’t see a contradiction in their identities. Our partners are not nervous about displaying their Jewishness. After all, this is a country where the Prime Minister is openly Jewish.

That is not to downplay antisemitism. Antisemitism exists, of course, as it does, sadly, in every European country. But it is important to understand that modern Ukraine is struggling to reconcile its past as both a perpetrator of atrocities during the Holocaust and a victim of Nazi and Soviet occupation and brutality.

One thing is certain though: for as long as there are vulnerable Jewish communities in Ukraine, World Jewish Relief and our partners will be there to support them.

Ekaterina Mitiaev
Head of Impact and Livelihoods, World Jewish Relief

Cross communal

I was intrigued by Jay Grenby’s article last week titled “Masorti goes to US for rabbi” and for a moment I thought there was a new understanding between Masorti and United Synagogue.

Harold Schogger, 
Edgware, Middlesex

Simpson’s legacy

David Edmonds offered a fascinating account of the contribution Miss Simpson made to the cause of alleviating the plight of European scholars (mostly but not exclusively Jewish) under Nazi threat.

On July 2 1992 the CIBA Foundation gave a reception to launch “Refugee Scholars, conversations with Tess Simpson”. Ray Cooper had recorded a series of “têtes-à-têtes” with Tess and obtained her agreement to allow them to be published. This was quite an achievement as she was  a very private person and did not easily talk about her own involvement in her “rescue work”. I was asked by Joan Stiebel to review the book and my review was published in the Birmingham Jewish Recorder in January 1993. Although Tess rarely admitted to any influence from her Jewish background, I was impressed by her comment about when she moved to Geneva in 1933. 

“We used to have little religious services at the end of Thursday morning, and I remembered being very shocked when, on one occasion soon after I joined [the World Alliance of YMCA’s], the French Parson said that while rather awkward happenings were taking place in Germany, we had to ask ourselves what was the will of God. Quoting from Isaiah, he proved to his own satisfaction that it was the will of God that the Jews should be persecuted until they all became Christians. That was a little much for me”.

I think this may have had a profound influence on Tess’s subsequent devotion to her attempts to help the persecuted peoples under Hitler’s regime.

(Dr) Anthony Joseph
Emeritus President, Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain
Smethwick, West Midlands, B66


May 19, 2017 16:22

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