Monday, March 19, 2007

The edicts of Elyashiv, By Yair Sheleg

Posted by Hannah at 7:39 PM


T., a Haredi woman, divorced her husband several years ago. The husband conditioned the granting of a get (religious divorce) on allowing all other issues that had been discussed at the outset in rabbinical court to continue to be discussed there. After a while, the woman submitted an appeal regarding the children's education to the Family Court (her representative claimed this was a subject that was not discussed in the rabbinical court previously, and therefore, did not constitute a violation of the agreement). The injured husband turned to the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, which ruled that the appeal to the secular court aroused doubts about the get's validity.

This statement placed the woman in a terrible situation: She has married another man since then, and they even have a child. If the get is canceled, she will be considered in terms of religious law, still married to her former husband, and her new child will be considered a mamzer (a child born to someone other than the woman's husband; the child cannot marry another Jew). The woman, therefore, hastened to appeal to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, but it has been delayed for about a year already. The delay also puts the woman in an impossible situation: If it is eventually decided that the get is invalid, she is already forbidden to have conjugal relations with her present husband.

According to the woman's rabbinical pleader, the dayan (rabbinical court judge) who is delaying the decision is Rabbi Hagai Izirer. Izirer, and his colleague Rabbi Avraham Sherman, are appointees of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the major arbiter of the Haredi world. Since being appointed to the Great Rabbinical Court, they have been considered representatives who maintain a stringent approach that aims to avoid forcing recalcitrant husbands to grant a get as much as possible. Izirer denies that he has delayed the handling of the case, claiming that all sides first agreed to discuss the education of the common child and only afterward the get's status. He also rejects claims regarding his fundamentally strict approach, but an objective person in the rabbinical court system confirms that both he and Sherman represent that line of thinking, "although they have never canceled a get."


If that is the case, the two reflect the approach of the man who sent them, Elyashiv. In recent years, Elyashiv's rulings have indicated an extreme stance, which is mainly characterized by a losing battle against the "new Haredim" who have become caught up by "the spirit of modernity" such as cell phones, the Internet and employment.

For example, Elyashiv recently published a ruling that only those who use "kosher" cell phones (those without access to the Internet) can register their children for Haredi schools. Prior to the upcoming shemita year (when Jews in Israel are not allowed to cultivate the land), he will probably renew his ruling against the heter mekhira (allowing farmers to cultivate their land during the year). His harshest edicts are against women: It is not enough that they have to simultaneously raise their children and support their family, but recently he forbade them from receiving an academic degree, thereby arousing waves of protest even among Haredim who usually honor the community's great Torah scholars. His associates treat women in need of a get in the same spirit.

In an era when the entire world of ethics has surrendered to market forces, there is something refreshing about insisting on enforcing ethical criteria. Therefore, we actually should respect the ruling regarding "kosher" cell phones. But when it comes to undermining human dignity, or attempting to force extremist norms on all of society, as in respect to shemita, we must not give in. Elyashiv's power in the Haredi community must be confronted with an alternative power: For example, he recently succeeded in having Izirer continue as the rabbinical court representative on the Dayanim Selection Committee, pushing aside the moderate Shlomo Daichovsky.

But if the Haredi parties are willing to surrender to Elyashiv (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef first supported Daichovsky, but eventually gave in), others involved in the committee (the Justice Ministry, the non-Haredi representatives of the Knesset and government, and the Israel Bar Association) must oppose him. The Education Ministry can, and must, insist on an academic degree for female Haredi teachers, and the Chief Rabbinate and other elements in the religious community must firmly oppose his strict position on shemita. This will also provide strength and support for those elements in the Haredi community who are not interested in surrendering to the extremist approach.

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