I’ve been away from my computer for a few days, so only just noticed this article which appeared in The Tablet, generally one of my favorite reads. This time however, they missed the mark. The unfortunate title, Israeli Marriage Freedom Ranks With Iran, Saudi Arabia, is an example of ill-considered rhetorical excess.
With that dramatic title, the article proceeds to discuss not marriage in Israel, but rather, divorce. The author, Adam Chandler, opens with a link to an earlier Tablet article about a get detective, someone who travels the world in order to help women procure their Jewish divorce, and then goes on to inform the reader:
Today, the Los Angeles Times ran a stories illuminating the “trap” of Jewish divorce in Israel, noting that even women who’ve been in abusive marriages remain unable to get out.
Actually, you should be very cautious in taking the LA Times report seriously. The article which was linked had numerous inaccuracies, and includes an estimate “that about 1 in 5 women who seek a divorce — or about 3,400 women a year — is denied by her husband”.
That’s a whopping 20%.
I’ve been practicing Family Law for over a decade and nowhere near that number of women who’ve come through my office have been denied a divorce. The fact is, most cases finish, most people get divorced within a reasonable amount of time and without unreasonable compromise. There are some heart-rending cases where this doesn’t happen and for which solutions must be found. However, overstating a problem only serves to exacerbate the rhetoric and entrench people in positions that make solutions difficult.
The quote from the LA Times article also seems to imply that the Rabbinic Court is deaf to claims that a wife has been abused. There are some women who have been abused who have difficulties obtaining a get, but the article seems to imply that abuse is not viewed by the Beit Din as grounds for divorce, which is simply not true. On the contrary, as someone who has spent a good part of her career representing women who have been abused, abusive behaviour on the part of the husband often constitutes the basis on which the Beit Din renders a judgement for a husband to give a divorce. Further, the Rabbinic Court Administration enacted procedural rules that made things easier for women who were in battered women’s shelters, including exempting them from paying filing fees to the court.
Chandler then moves on to the issue of marriage:
One organization puts marriage freedom in Israel on par with some notoriously repressive places:
Women’s rights advocates are pushing Israel’s coalition government, the first in decades that does not include ultra-Orthodox parties, to pass reforms. A report in April by the Israeli religious rights group Hiddush ranked Israel alongside Iran and Saudi Arabia in terms of marriage freedom.
Marriage laws need to change, and should have changed some time ago. But because marriage in Israel is governed by ecclesiastical law and marriage in Saudi Arabia and Iran are governed by Sharia Law, doesn’t mean “same-same.”
First of all, as part of good journalism, the author should have linked to the report by Hiddush.
Second, he might have pointed out what marriage in Saudi Arabia and Iran means for women: child-marriage is rampant, the father has veto power over the marriage, apparently there are limits on a Saudi woman marrying a foreign Muslim. Or how about the institution of temporary marriages in Iran which tend to exploit vulnerable women? While members of the Muslim, Catholic, and many other Christian communities can marry in Israel, that’s illegal for members of Iran’s Bahai community.
Finally, it might have been important to point out that marriages conducted abroad legally – including between same-sex couples – are recognized by the institutions of the State of Israel.
So, the headline of the article certainly caught my eye, and maybe that was the point. However, a little bit of nuance and analysis would have made for more responsible journalism.