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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

February 9, 2017
13 Sh'vat, 5777

Dear Friends,

The more hostile and Haredi-dominated the political arena becomes, the more important is the legal advocacy work done by Hiddush and likeminded organizations.

Not that outreach to the general public is of lesser importance. We naturally do that as well, quite successfully, but that is a longer-term goal. In the meantime, specific inequities can be at least partially remedied through effective legal advocacy. This too takes time, perseverance, and patience, but it is an essential tool in the arsenal for change in a political environment that does not look kindly at notions of Jewish pluralism or religious freedom, even as PM Netanyahu occasionally pays lip service to notions of Jewish inclusiveness and outreach to the non-Orthodox streams.

On the right you'll be able to see some details of Hiddush's recent legal advocacy work, and as we have noted before, the Supreme Court's docket is full with religion/state issues. As cynical as Israeli politicians may be, it seems that they too understand there is a line that should not be crossed and that they cannot overrule every Court decision by counter-legislation. That is why, in part, we find anti-Supreme Court rhetoric growing, clearly in an attempt to preempt rulings that challenge the Government's discriminatory and/or illegal policies. These increasing efforts at intimidating the Court pose a real threat to Israel's core democratic values and undermine the independence of the Judiciary. They bring together unnatural bedfellows: 1) extreme right-wing politicians who are frustrated over the Court's and the Attorney General's repeated interventions in matters pertaining to illegal settlements and 2) ultra-Orthodox leaders who jump on this bandwagon with the hope of multiplying the forces working toward castrating Israel’s civil courts.

Among them, in the last few days, were MK Eichler (United Torah Judaism) who described the Supreme Court as the "Kingdom of evil" and drew an analogy between the Israeli Supreme Court and Soviet Russia with its dictatorial revolution, which crowned unelected individuals as rulers, while denying the people's representatives the right to legislate laws. Eichler's version of the role of Supreme Court Justices is “appointed clerks like all other government employees... when someone, be it a Supreme Court Justice or a lowly clerk, comes along and says that Knesset law is not to his liking - this is a dictatorship.”

Similarly, Rabbi David Yosef, member of the Council of the Sages of the Torah (and Chief Rabbi Yosef's brother), attacked both the Supreme Court and the efforts at reaching a new compromise regarding the Western Wall prayer arrangements. He mocked the Supreme Court Justices who just ruled regarding the need to vacate the Amona settlement because the land belongs to others, saying, "Why don't you say that we were there before (namely the Orthodox worshippers)? Think of us as you think of the Arabs; just as you have ruled in favor of the Arabs who had prior land titles, declare that the Kotel is ours." He also declared, adding a note of physical violence: "Everyone is afraid of the Supreme Court. Nothing will help. The Kotel will remain ours. We will fight for it with our bodies and maintain the sanctity of the Kotel."

With this in mind, clearly one cannot overexaggerate the importance of safeguarding Israel's democratic foundations, and regardless of one's political views, the threat emanating from religious fundamentalist circles is imminent and obvious. To effectively counter this threat will take much more than the Jewish community has acknowledge to date. We at Hiddush are proud and committed to be at the forefront of this critical battle.

All the very best,

Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President

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A shocking Rabbinic Court ruling regarding a battered wife

Hiddush has repeatedly challenged the continued monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate and rabbinic courts over matters of personal status of all Jews in Israel. Last week, we saw one of the most shocking and deplorable examples of why this authority should urgently be withdrawn.

In a divorce case brought before the rabbinic courts by a woman represented by attorneys from Mavoi Satum ("Dead End" - an Orthodox organization working diligently for women fighting for divorces from recalcitrant husbands), the rabbinic court refused to order the husband to divorce his wife, even though he used violence against her. Mavoi Satum has just appealed to the Attorney General to intervene in the matter. This will clearly not be the last we hear of this case and Mavoi Satum's important work in the field, but given the nature of the case, we feel it's important to shed light on this close-mindedness and injustice, especially when it comes to the rights and dignity of women.

When the case was brought back before the rabbinic court of Jerusalem, which had previously rejected the wife's divorce suit, the wife's representatives presented the criminal conviction of the husband for physical violence against his wife to the Court, as well as two additional charge sheets for other physical acts of violence and threats against her. The Court noted that the husband admitted his guilt, saying, "I confess and am aware of the mistake I made." The court also recorded the husband's brother's testimony that the filed divorce suit and poor relationship with his wife brought "mental and physical deterioration and a state of constant stress" to the husband.

After paying lip service to violence against wives, the court went on to disregard the significance of the violence and blamed the victim. The Court said, "Undoubtedly, every instance of a husband hurting his wife is unjustified under any circumstance, and should be related to with severity and denounced, especially such serious violence as described in the charge sheet. On the other hand, there is also no doubt that the husband's outburst followed on the difficult conditions he is in as a result of the divorce suit his wife filed against him; and there is no doubt that if the wife accepted the husband's request to attempt to return normal life together, this occurrence would not have happened... It can be assessed with certainty that the event occurred following the filing of the divorce suit and the conflict that ensued. Had the divorce suit not been submitted, it should be assumed that this event would not have come about. Also, we are dealing with an exceptional event in which the husband admitted the mistake he made, and it's reasonable to assume that he will not repeat it in the future. Also, it should be noted that the wife's representative in the criminal court stated that the husband does not have a criminal record, namely: this occurrence is a one-time and exceptional event."

What the court did not reveal in its ruling is that in addition to the conviction, which it mentioned, the wife's representatives also presented two additional criminal charge sheets relating to two additional instances of physical violence against the wife, and it should be mentioned that in the last few days since the rabbinic court's decision, these too have resulted in convictions.

Rabbinic courts that satisfy themselves with paying lip service to the odious phenomenon of wife beating and feel that the case of a husband’s violence, which results in the wife’s filing a divorce suit, is understandable and tolerable, and halakhically(!) conclude that the wife should cede to her husband's demand that she remain in their marriage… these reminds us of attitudes towards wife beating in Israel’s neighboring countries, and recent pronouncements regarding wife beating not being grounds for divorce. "Blaming the victim," which is so repulsive though common in rape cases, is rearing its ugly head in the rabbinic courts themselves, and serves as an unconscionable basis for halakhic rulings of these State empowered and monopolistically mandated institutions. Getting rid of this unconscionable state of affairs that degrades and victimizes women and condones violence cannot happen soon enough. For the time being, we can only serve as messengers in shedding light on this sad state of affairs and acknowledging the important service of organizations such as Mavoi Satum.

Stepping up Hiddush's legal advocacy

With key governmental ministries controlled by the ultra-Orthodox and Zionist Orthodox parties, and with these elements in the Coalition dictating their wills to the Government even beyond the sphere of their ministerial portfolios, there is a growing need for legal advocacy work to challenge inequity and illegal practices. Hiddush has been stepping up its legal advocacy work in response to this need; the following are just a few examples:

1) Hiddush recently submitted a petition to the Supreme Court against the Ministers of Defense and Justice and the Chairs of the Knesset Foreign Relations and Law committees, as well as the IDF. The issue at hand is the inaction of the Knesset and the Ministers since the Knesset's amendment of the Military Service Law in 2012 in an attempt to crack down on the thousands of young women falsely claiming (and receiving) exemptions from military service by declaring that they follow religious lifestyles and norms that preclude their IDF service. In 2012, the Knesset mandated the creation of an administrative committee authorized to void such exemptions if they were proven to be false. The Knesset further mandated a speedy process for adopting regulations to facilitate the work of this committee. Still, with the exception of one Knesset deliberation following the passage of this law, nothing further was done to finalize these regulations, let alone establish the committee and review falsely obtained exemptions. Hiddush's exploration of the issue, including Freedom of Information motions, revealed that an estimated 1,800 to 4,000 women falsely declare religious exemptions annually. These are easily obtained, and only a handful are reviewed. Even for the few that are investigated and found false, hardly any enforcement is carried out. Hiddush's petition aims to force the authorities to implement the 2012 law to stem the tide of draft dodging under false religious claims.

2) The Chief Rabbinate was forced to change its illegal, coercive kashrut regulations and revoke its demand that hotels refrain from displaying Christmas and New Year's holiday symbols in response to Hiddush's repeated demands and threats of legal action. However, Jerusalem's Chief Rabbis issued a strongly worded message to Jerusalem's hotels last year regarding the prohibition of displaying Christmas trees. We challenged the legality of this action, and have just received a response from the Chief Rabbinate’s legal advisor, acknowledging that the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem should have made it clear that their communication would have no bearing on the hotels' kashrut certifications – that hotels wouldn't be sanctioned in any way. Hiddush will monitor this matter further, seeing it as an area prone to abuse.

3) Hiddush was approached a small party supply store in Tel Aviv, which, along with its long inventory, sells sweets. The sweets are all kosher under the Chief Rabbinate's supervision, and they are all sold in their original sealed packaging. On their website, they listed these, as denoted by the Chief Rabbinate, as "Kosher Pareve." They were fined 2,000 NIS by the Rabbinate for not having the store under the Rabbinate's supervision, while advertising items as kosher. Clearly, an outrageous, illegal abuse of authority, and so we turned on behalf of the store to the Rabbinate, the Ministry of Religious Services, and the Attorney General, demanding that the fine be cancelled, an apology be issued to the owners, other fines be reviewed to identify similarly illegal ones, and clear and strict instructions be issued to prevent the recurrence of such breaches of authority. The Chief Rabbinate rescinded the fine in response to Hiddush’s legal action.

4) Through a series of Freedom of Information motions and analyses, Hiddush has realized that even the limited core curricular requirements for state funded ultra-Orthodox schools are not adhered to, and these infractions are detected by the Ministry of Education's supervisors. Alas, rather than stop public funding altogether, which would make such disregard unprofitable, the fines levied on the schools are minuscule in comparison to their State funding (which amounts to many millions of shekels), and moreover scores of schools are found to be in breach every year in recent years, yet there are no further consequences. Hiddush turned to the Ministry and the Attorney General, providing our detailed analysis of the Ministry's toothless policy, and demanded that such schools lose their State funding, that repeated infractions result in increasing penalties and consideration of personal criminal sanctions against the school administrators, and that all Haredi schools be expected to participate in the standardized testing, which would clearly be the only objective measure of their compliance. Naturally, we are ready to take legal action if necessary.

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