Taking a Stand

Rabbi Jeremy Stern of the ORA organization takes a stand against Yechiel Friedman, a man refusing to give his wife a get for at least 18 years.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jewish ritual, Rabbi Stern is refusing the count Mr. Friedman in a minyan, the quorum of ten men required for Jewish prayer.

Kudos to Rabbi Stern and ORA for their good work, and for taking a stand, for making the refusal to give – or receive – a get, socially unacceptable.

(Hat tip: EZ)

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Another Point of View

I asked Adv. Michal Fein, a co-member of Divorcing Peacefully, the collaborative divorce practice to which I belong and one of the architects of the new law which I criticized in my post below, to respond to the critique of the law.

Michal very kindly did so, and I post her comments, in Hebrew here. Interspersed is my translation to English of her remarks.

“סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה” – תגובה קצרה מאת עו”ד מיכל פיין

ביום 9.12.14 מליאת הכנסת אישרה בקריאה שנייה ושלישית את הצעת חוק להסדר התדיינויות בסכסוכי משפחה (הוראת שעה), התשע”ה-2014, אשר יכנס לתוקף בעוד תשעה חודשים.

יש להתפלא על כך, שדווקא כאשר המחוקק ממלא את חובתו ועושה צעד לקראת צמצום הפער בין חקיקה מיושנת למציאות משתנה – התגובה העולה מקהילת המשפט בישראל מבטאת פחד וחשש מפני החדש והלא ידוע למרות ההסכמה הכללית שהמצב הקיים הוא בלתי נסבל.

הלוחמנות, הבריונות והאלימות המשפטית המאפיינים את (העדר) תרבות הגירושין בישראל גובים מחיר חברתי עצום והמדינה נאלצת להשקיע משאבים אדירים במימון “מלחמות היהודים”. זאת מבלי להתייחס לנזק שאין חמור ממנו לרקמה האנושית של המשפחות המפורקות בכלל ושל הילדים בפרט. ובשביל מה

 On Dec. 9, 2014 the Knesset approved on second and third readings the proposed Law for the Settlement of Litigation in Family Conflicts, which will come into effect in nine months.

It’s surprising that while the legislative branch actually fulfilled its obligation and took a step to diminish the gap between archaic legislation and changing reality – the reaction coming out of the Israeli legal community is one of fear and suspicion of the new and unknown, despite the general consensus that the current situation is unbearable.

The militancy, bullying and legal violence which characterize the (lack of) culture around divorce in Israel exact a tremendous social cost and the State is forced to sink huge resources into financing the “wars of the Jews”. This, without relating to the damage, incomparable in its severity to the human fabric of the families torn apart, in general, and to the children, in particular. And for what? Continue reading

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Paved with Good Intentions

As in, the road to hell is paved with…

I’ll open this with an apology: I am aware that there are good and idealistic people who have invested time, energy and thought into the new law forcing people in family conflicts to take a long time – over nine weeks – to explore Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR). Despite the good intentions of these good people, what springs to my mind is that John Lennon (think: Imagine) has met the Emperor’s New Clothes. So sorry, I for one am wishing this new law would just go away.

In Hebrew the law is:

החוק להסדר התדיינות בסכסוכי משפחה (הוראת שעה), תשע”ד-2014

A rough translation: The Law for the Settlement of Litigation in Family Conflicts (Provisional Order),  5774-2014.

In the closing days of this last Knesset – since we head for new elections March 17, 2015 – our lawmakers (actually, just 9 out of 120 Members of Knesset were there for the actual vote) – saw fit to actually prohibit people from litigating family disputes without first spending over two months exploring options to litigation.

As family conflicts becoming increasingly difficult, far more intense and entrenched, rather than invest the resources necessary to deal with high conflict, a kind of hope addiction seems to have infiltrated some of the movers and shakers in the world of family law in Israel. I can’t be part of the choir singing praise for this law; I have a sinking feeling that it’s a law filled with pitfalls which will leave the weak weaker, and exacerbate the failure of the system to adequately address the issue of high conflict families.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for alternate dispute resolution – under the right circumstances. I’m a mediator, collaborative divorce practitioner and I encourage clients to reach good agreements that will allow them to move on with their lives rather than spend their time and money using the law to take revenge. I like to think that no judge or client will ever say that I litigated without cause.

However, courts have a critical role to play, particularly in dealing with high-conflict couples, couples where there is emotional and financial abuse, unhealthy parental gate-keeping, and disparity in control of and knowledge of the finances. Properly timed filing of a lawsuit can be the very trigger which changes the power relations, and allows for serious negotiations to take place.

Now we have a sweeping law which diminishes the autonomy out of the individual, individuals who may have had their autonomy seriously limited or derailed by their intimate partner.

After that little rant, what’s the law? Continue reading

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Missiles Falling, Doors Opening

A post in the Times of Israel by Adv. Osnat Sharon, rabbinical court advocate and director of Yad L’Isha.  Illustrates a piece of the absurd balancing act with which we all live here in Israel:

The following story was shared with me by Rabbinical Court Advocate Dina Raichik, a senior staff member of Yad L’isha: the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, who has been serving clients in southern Israel since the opening of our Beersheba branch in 2012.

Yesterday, I went to the rabbinical court with R, a woman whose domineering husband had refused to grant her a divorce for the past 15 years. R had come to my office in Beersheba about a year ago, shortly after we opened the southern branch. She told me that she had been represented by a number of private lawyers over the years, but other than eating up all of her savings, nothing had been done to further her case. R was still living in the same apartment with her husband, with each having taken over different parts, but she was desperate to get out. “He told me that if I gave up my half of the home he would give me a get [divorce]. The offer has been growing more and more tempting to me lately,” she confided. “I’m just so tired.”In my years of advocacy I have seen tens of women become trapped in this quandary. Many of my clients have been victimized for so many years that all of their self-confidence and emotional strength has been sapped. After years of being beaten down, even the strongest, most accomplished women begin to crack. The signs of victimization begin to show. Denied freedom again and again, unable to start a new life or family causes terrible damage to these women and their children. Some even start to believe that everything is somehow their own fault.

When women like R come to Yad L’isha, we not only provide them with legal representation in the courts, we also provide them with coaching services and the emotional backing they need to regain their self-esteem and stand up to the extortionary demands of their husbands. After dozens of discussions and laborious negotiations which lasted several months, R’s husband and his lawyer finally understood that the newly-empowered R was not going to give in. They understood that I, her advocate, was going to win the chiyyuv get ruling which would compel the granting of the get. And they understood that the time had come to come to an agreement. We drew up a contract in which R’s husband would grant her a divorce, give her half the apartment, and undertake to pay his own way out of his personal debt. The hearing was scheduled for yesterday.

And then missiles began to fall.

The night before the hearing, R was so excited she did not sleep. She arrived at the court as soon as it opened, even though her case was not scheduled to be heard until the late morning hours. Just as we sat down for some coffee, a Code Red alarm sounded; I was startled, but R was undeterred. “I don’t care about being injured by shrapnel, about a wall falling on me,” she said. “Today I will receive my get.”

Suddenly I realized the tremendous privilege I had to be able to accompany women like R through thick and thin; through water and, yes, through fire. The divorce is not just a piece of paper given by the husband, it symbolizes a woman’s freedom, her ability to regain her independence and her right to self-determination.

When it was finally time for R’s hearing, she went in with her head held high – finally, this was going to be her day! Then, just as the rabbis were questioning the couple to ensure that they were both agreeing to the divorce willingly, the missile warning alarm sounded yet again. R stared at the rabbis, unwilling to move; she had waited too long for freedom to have it postponed. She continued to stare at the rabbis. The rabbis remained in their seats. In fact, we all remained in our seats – even as we heard the other rooms emptying out and people scurrying to the bomb shelter. The rabbis continued with the proceedings even as the alarm continued, even as loud “booms” were heard as the missiles landed in an open field right outside of town. But R didn’t hear any of those things. All she heard were the rabbis’ words:  your divorce is final. You are free.

R

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Our Children – and a Ray of Hope

For 18 days the people of Israel, watched and waited, hoped and prayed, that three of our children would once again be embraced by their families, by the entire nation.

Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah – children – murdered in cold blood.

For 18 days we watched in wonder at the dignity of their families as they united the nation, infected all of us with their goodwill and optimism.

For 18 days we hoped and prayed that our boys were indeed kidnapped, that they were spending nightmarish days in a damp and dismal cave somewhere, but we could yet bring them home. They would once again study, laugh, play their guitars, sing their songs, live their lives.

Last night, our hopes were smashed, their families must contend with the pain, the loss, the anguish.

Our hopes and prayers remain with them. They made it clear that what they want more than anything is that the spirit of unity and mutual concern generated over the past 18 days stay with us, flourish and grow.

Update:

Someone just alerted me to this, and it gives us a ray of hope. It’s a Facebook post in English, Hebrew and Arabic though I’ve only copied the English here, by Mohammad Zoabi, and it speaks for itself:

(עברית בהמשך)
(العربية بالكمالة)

It was the end of the school year
I was getting ready for my History Bagrut exam…
I was doing some teen craps
I only expressed my mind, something that every person can do in democratic countries like Israel
I showed sympathy for the 3 Innocent Israelis who were kidnapped by terrorists
I got attacked, criticized and threatened by Arabs and Anti Israelis from all over the globe among them was; MK Haneen Zoabi
My mom reported the police, I had security around me and I had to move to a secured place.
I googled my name in English, I saw breaking news; Israeli Arab teen makes waves after slamming the kidnapping
I googled my name is Hebrew; MK relative Mohammad Zoabi is a proud Zionist-Upsets his Family
I googled my name in Arabic…..I wish I haven’t, I saw; Videos on me being kidnapped and killed, Shameful pictures on me with unbelievable descriptions.
All existed only for speaking up for the Middle East’s only Democracy and speaking up against terrorism
All that was short while before I was informed by reliable security sources that my life is in danger and that there’s an attempt to kidnapp me to the PA Ter. and harm me,
It took me a while to realize it all; I reviewed my self and my beliefs but found nothing wrong about them.
I reviewed the way I expressed my mind; its not the best way but at least I’m not encouraging hate the way Haneen Zoabi does
What i have done was, speaking up my mind, defending my country and my people; I mean if I wouldnt be able to express my love to my country inside my country where else could I express it?
My name is Mohammad Zoabi, 16 year old Israeli Zionist Arab Muslim;
Israeli-I was born in a country called Israel; same way French are born in France, Iranians in Iran. And hell yeah i’m proud for being Israeli
Zionist-Simply I believe in the Jewish people’s right of self determination in their homeland; The land of Israel
Arab-My 1st mother language is Arabic; My Ethnic background is Arab.
Muslim-I believe in one God and respect all God’s prophets and religions; Moses(Judaism), Jesus(Christianity) and Mohammad(Islam)
I see myself as a human being above anything else,a human being who wants to create a better world for all
I Mohammad Zoabi announce that I’m ready to give up my life for the sake of a better future for us, our children and all the coming generations of Mankind.
May Israel be blessed
May peace come upon us and all our Middle Eastren neighbors
May we have a better future full of Peace, love and a want to Co-exist
Always remember; No matter how different we are, we are eventually Human beings who very soon may release the last breath and give the world’s responsibility for the new generation
Remember; Life is too short to have enemies
May you all be blessed,
Praying for a better world for all;

Mohammad Zoabi

 

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Moral Compass Spinning

It seems tough to have an accurate moral compass these days.

One of the most recent manifestations of this phenomenon is an article in incredibly poor taste in the Arutz 7 news site.

Some background to the article:

In the past few months the Authority of Enforcement and Collection initiated a new track at Hotza’ah LePoal (the branch responsible for debt collection, similar to the bailiff’s office in other countries) to facilitate collection of unpaid child support.

Here’s the first piece of moral inversion in the article:

 Advocates for family values, fathers’ and children’s rights were dismayed this week when Israeli television and radio stations began running an advertisement on behalf of the Justice Ministry, trumpeting a new fast track that will assist women in collecting overdue child support payments from their former husbands.

Really? Advocates of “Family Values” and “Children’s Rights” were dismayed by an ad that helps women put food on the tables for their children? Which advocates? And about which particular family values are they dismayed?

To advertise this service and encourage people to make use of it, they agency produced this video:

I’ve encouraged women owed child support to use this service over the few months since its inception, and am  impressed by the efficiency and professionalism of the process.

But, here comes Arutz 7 and paints women trying to support their children as a bunch of militants, living high off the hog at the expense of their children’s fathers. Or perhaps the real point of the article was to use these women – and their children – merely as a platform to bash one of their none-too-favorite politicians, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Never mind that in doing so the plight of children (not women!) depending on child support payments is distorted. In fact, we are told that the real victims here are the fathers paying child support.

One may argue about whether dressing the mothers in army uniforms was in good taste or even the best way to advertise the service. However, there is no doubt that many mothers struggling to make sure there is enough money to pay the rent – to say nothing of making it through the month – feel that every day is a battle.

Along these lines, the only criticism I have of the video is that the lives of many of the women and children I represent don’t look quite so pretty; they aren’t attending ballet lessons even when the fathers are paying child support, since there just isn’t enough money for lessons of that sort and the supermarkets in which they shop don’t look quite so squeaky clean.

Not only does the article fail to even attempt a serious discussion about child support and the failure to pay, but what purports to be an objective news source turns itself into a shill for “father’s rights” groups. With no criticism or fact-checking, the author simply parrots the message of anonymous “father’s rights” groups:

An angry divorced father was quick to edit and upload a counter-video, which speaks about the plight of divorced fathers, who fight to give their children a good home despite having to pay for two households. “For years, you fought for the country,” says the narrator. “Now – the state fights you. Mothers in uniform declare war on you. The ammunition – children. The weapon – courtesy of the state.”

So now, once again, the mothers are where they should be – the bad guys, destroying homes and the very fabric of the State of Israel.

What can I say? It’s a new low, and Arutz 7 should be ashamed.

If Israeli courts reward higher amounts of child support than other countries – and I don’t trust the statistics cited in the article, with no links to any sources –  then that speaks highly for a society which cares about its children’s welfare. At the same time, the steps we take to enforce the child support payments are far less draconian than some other countries, or at least the United States.

When there is not enough money to divide one  home that is limping along financially into two homes, there is never a perfect answer as to how to determine child support.

There is however, a range of reasons for why fathers end up having child support decisions enforced in Hotza’ah le’Poal, and they don’t always have to do with the father not having enough money to make the payments. Not infrequently, non-payment is simply another to make life unpleasant for the mother raising the children on her own. It’s the old – “I’ll do anything for my children but SHE won’t get a penny from me.”

As a free piece of advice I heartily recommend the new service at Hotza’ah LePoal for those owed child support. They are doing a great job, and providing an important service  –  for the kids.

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Dubious Distinction

I’m frequently asked what the divorce rate is Israel.

So, below is an article from the Jerusalem Post with the stats (in real numbers) for 2013 as released by the Rabbinical Courts Administration. Because the statistics are from the Rabbinical Courts, they only relate to divorces between Jews. It would have been nice to see the statistics from the authorities responsible for divorces between Muslims, Christians, and civil dissolution of marriages.

My town, Jerusalem, seems to have the dubious distinction of the most number of divorces.

There was a continued rise in the rate of divorce in 2013, with the Rabbinical Courts Administration announcing on Tuesday night a 5.8 percent increase in the numbers of couples ending their marriages over the 2012 figures.

In total, 11,219 couples got divorced in 2013, compared with 10,602 in 2012.

Jerusalem was the city with the most divorces, with 733 couples formally separating, while 678 couples divorced in Tel Aviv, 502 in Haifa and 492 in Rishon Lezion.

The rabbinical courts, which have exclusive jurisdiction over Jewish marriage and divorce, said it took an average of 96 days to complete a divorce case in 2013, 10 days quicker than a year earlier.

Additionally, the administrations’ special unit for obtaining bills of divorce (gets) for women whose husbands refuse to grant them obtained 159 gets in 2013 from men who had fled the country, compared to 163 in 2012.

There was a significant increase in the number of times the rabbinical courts imposed sanctions on men refusing to give their wives a bill of divorce.

You can read the rest here.

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