One of the interesting aspects of the decision is the way it has been reported in the news media. I heard about it because someone sent me a link to an article, with the rather hysterical headline – The Mother is Religious, and the Children Will Drive on Shabbat with the Father. (For those of you unaware of Jewish religious practices, observant Jews do not drive on Shabbat.) I learned a long time ago – and my friends and family are sometime frustrated by this – that when you see a juicy headline about a court decision, make sure to read the decision itself, and don’t assume that the way it’s reported in the media reflects the substance of the decision.
Of course,upon reading the actual decision it became clear that the story is more nuanced than the headline.
The parents, apparently now divorced, lead different lifestyles; the mother observes Shabbat laws and the father does not. It’s important to note that from reading the decision, this appears to be a high conflict family which (without being too judgmental on my part) seems hellbent on wreaking as much havoc as possible on their kids’ lives. In the course of around three years of court proceedings, there have been no fewer than 26 experts’ reports submitted to the court about issues dealing with the children.
The mother’s latest move -which resulted in this decision – was to petition the court to order that any visits between the father and children on Shabbat be contingent upon him observing Shabbat laws.
Unlike the headline quoted above, the judge did not rule positively that the children will drive on Shabbat. Rather, the judge had to balance between a number of competing interests; the best interests of the children, the freedom of religion of the children, and the constitutional right of the father not to observe Shabbat.
Ultimately, the judge ruled that in light of the importance of ongoing contact between that father and the children, and the father’s right not to observe Shabbat, she could not limit the Shabbat visits nor order the father to observe Shabbat in the presence of the children.
She did however send a message to the father saying that she hoped he would be sensitive to the children’s need for stability and respect their values while they were with him.
It’s worth noting that there were a couple of other factors involved in the decision. The first, that the children had always been raised with an awareness that not everyone shares their lifestyle; the father and his family of origin are not observant, and the children have coped with this complexity from a young age. In addition, while the family lived abroad, the children did not attend a religious Jewish school.
The second factor here is that the judge felt that the mother was not such a strict adherent to Jewish law since, for the purposes of gathering materials against the father, she hired a private investigator to follow the father on Shabbat, basically a no-no under Jewish law. Reading the decision, it was hard to escape the impression that the judge was implicitly suggesting that the motives for the mother’s petition were less than noble.
Well, were today Friday I would wish everyone Shabbat Shalom. Since it’s not, I’ll just have to wish these children well; I hope they emerge with intact relationships with both parents, as well as an appreciation for and love of, Shabbat.