Volume 16 Number 16
                       Produced: Fri Oct 28  8:08:15 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Aiding Agunot
         [Rivka Haut]
Divorce and Marriage in Israel
         [Eli Turkel]
Guidelines for Modesty (revised, sorry again!)
         [Shaul Wallach]


From: Rivka Haut <0005446733@...>
Date: Wed, 26 Oct 94 14:50 EST
Subject: Aiding Agunot

Dr. Mark Press' response to my postings here re agunot is one which is
very familiar to me. A favorite method of those who deny and/or ignore
the plight of agunot has always been to attack those of us who try to
help, rather than face the issue. It is generally rabbis who utilize
this strategy. This is the first time I have been openly attacked by a
        As to the statement that women who are his patients have
complained to him about me(!!!), why would anyone waste their therapy
time that way? I frankly do not believe that anyone who turned to me for
help would harbor such anger. For AGUNAH has never advertised, we take
no money for our time and efforts, we merely respond to calls to us, we
never initiate anything in regard to a specific case. We never act
without the full agreement of the agunah.
        As for the rabbis who Dr. Press claims disapprove of the AGUNAH
organization. We are not trying to win a popularity contest. The
important thing is that rabbis on batei din recognise us as advocates
for agunot and do not ignore us. In fact, we receive many calls from
rabbis asking for our help. Many of the women who call us are referred
by rabbis. Most hear about us by word of mouth. Every time we help one
agunah, we are called by three more.
        We at AGUNAH do not enjoy our work. We are unpaid volunteers. We
have no funding. We are overworked because of our mounting caseload. We
will be relieved to step down and let others, more acceptable to the
Orthodox world, take over. They must first acquire the knowledge of the
beit din system that we have acquired, which can only come as a result
of years of work. If Dr. Press can do the job, and wants to, let him
begin right now.  There is a lot of work to be done.
        This topic has brought out so much venom. The level of
discussion has deteriorated from a discussion of rabbinic sources and
presentation of agunah reality to nasty slurs. I will not be responding
to this list any longer and will not read it either. My time will be
better spent helping agunot. However, to all those who wrote to me
privately, I will respond to each of you as soon as I can.

Rivka Haut 


From: <turkel@...> (Eli Turkel)
Date: Tue, 25 Oct 94 13:54:03 +0200
Subject: Divorce and Marriage in Israel

    About a month ago an article appeared (in Hebrew) in the Meimad 
on the divorce situation in Israel. The article is by Prof. Rosen-tzvi
dean of the faculty of law at Tel Aviv University. I found the article
very intersting and am offering a summary here. The article focuses on
the difficulties that non-religious Jews in Israel have getting a get
(divorce). The views expressed are those of the author and I accept
no responsiblitity. My personal comments will appear in parentheses.

    In Israel all divorces must go through the Bet Din (religious court
system). However, request for monetary support can go through either the
Bet Din or the standard court system. In 1960 over 90% of the requests
for support went through the Bet Din. In 1992 it was under 50%. Since
1971 the Jewish population of Israel has increased by 56% while the
number of marriages has remained stable at 25,000 per year (presumably
more couples are living together without getting married). The number of
divorces in that period has increased from 2,300 to 6,000. The estimates
of the number of woman trying unsuccessfully to get a divorce ranges
between 4,000 and 15,000.
     In the old days an agunah was a woman whose husband disappeared for
some reason and the halakhic difficulties were in proving the husband's
death.  Today this is a minor problem with the major difficulty being
the refusal of the husband (usually but not always non-religious) to
give a divorce.  In the "old" days the Jewish population was homogenous
and the rabbinical authority was strong. With various social pressures
there were few cases of husbands refusing to give a divorce. Modern
Israeli society is not religious and the rabbincal authority in this
sector of the population is nil.  Social pressures and cherems no longer
work.  A major problem is that while most of the cases involve
nonreligious Jews the vast majority of dayanim are charedim who have no
concept of what life outside their community is like.  Many have no
secular education at all even on a high school level.  Many of the
dayanim became judges straight out of yeshiva without any practical
experience of being a rabbi in any town or without having served in the
Israeli army.  Hence, there is no level of communication between the
judges and those being judged.
        In the yeshiva they are taught "yirat ha-horaah" (fear of making
a mistake in rendering a decision). The whole system in the rabbinical
courts differs from that of modern courts and individual courts have
much more independence. Hence, there is little that the chief rabbis or
other administrators can do to enforce rules of conduct within the
courtroom i.e. how long should breaks be, proper behavior, priorities in
cases etc.  The view of Halakhah is that one should not get divorced
without a good reason while this is not important in modern secular
culture. The attitude of most dayanim is that this is a problem of the
secularists and not of Halakhah and therefore it is none of their
business. They will continue to judge as would have been done hundreds
of years ago and if this creates problems it is the fault of the other
side. Hence, the "yirat ha-horaah" stresses that one should not make any
decisions that might establish precedents. Hence, many of the women who
cannot get divorces is because of the fear of the judges. In the end
many of the dayanim simply return the case to the "defendants" and tell
them to work out a settlement between themselves without court
      A similar problem arises with the conversion of minor children.
Because the parents are not religious many courts will refuse to convert
gentile children (e.g. from Russia). Without a conversion they cannot
get married. In the past many of these cases were solved quietly and
privately. However, since no precedents were established the Charedi
community has pressured the rabbanut to stop all these informal
solutions.  The result is thousands of children from the old Soviet
Union who fully participate in all aspects of Israeli society, school,
army etc. but who are not Jewish according to Halakhah and cannot,
realistially, become Jewish.  Many of these children are not even aware
of the problem and some of them are even attending yeshivot and ulpanot
(women's yeshivot).  Since, today there are almost no conversions being
done in Israel this is a problem that will explode in the near future.
      When it comes to support for the woman in the divorce the Bet Din,
on average, awards 30% less support to the woman then the secular courts
(500 NIS the Bet Din versus 700 NIS for the courts). In fact the amount
awarded by the Bet Din is lower, on average, than that awarded by other
religious courts in Israel (e.g. Muslim). This does not involve any
Halakhic difficulties in fact the Bet Din has always had the role of
protector of the orphans and widows. However, this is a result of the
lower status of the woman in the Charedi circles and therefore their
reduced vision of how much it would cost a woman to live alone and
support her children. All this encourages the husband to use the Bet Din
to extort all sorts of demands from his wife before giving a divorce.
In many cases the dayanim are not even aware of the problems that they
are causing.
     In the past rabbis came up with many innovations for the problems
of their times. Rav Chaim Palagi (about 100 years ago) said that one
could force the husband to issue a divorce after a seperation of 18
months.  Rambam allowed forcing the husband to issue a divorce if the
husband is disgusting (mah-us) to the wife. The Maharsha at the end of
Yevamot says that we pray that G-d should give us the strength to
overcome (le-hafer) the Torah for the sake of peace.
       The only way out of this bind is to allow secular divorces in
addition to the religious divorces. The choice will be determined by the
marriage one used. A couple married in a religious ceremony will require
a "get" for divorce. One married secularly will get divorced secularly.
Since a number of poskim do not recognize a secular marriage as binding
according to halakhah this will eliminate many problems. A more serious
problem is that of illegitimate marriges e.g. mamzer. Allowing such
marriages would lead to 2 groups of people in Israel who could not
intermarry. One possiblitility would be the registration of such
illegitimate marriages. This would confine the problem to those involved
in these marriages and not to everyone who uses the secular marriage
system.  This still leaves the problem of who will determine if the
secular marriage is halachic permissible.
     The above solution is not optimal but may be the only possible
solution to the problem of the children from Russia who cannot
convert. The only other way is to leave the siutaion as it is now with
non-religious couples getting divorces outside of Israel. Even marriages
done by mail are recognized in Israel. Muslim-jewish intermarriage can
be done through the Muslim court system. These alternatives will be used
more in the future but will not answer the problems of the women who are
currently agunot. Attempts at keeping the status quo are simply
misleading. If the Bet Din does not satisfy the demand the answer will
come from somewhere else, vacuums do not exist in nature or in
society. As a start the secular court system has started telling the Bet
Din how to conduct some of its business, for example in dividing up the
property of the divorced couple. According to Halakhah basically
everything goes to the husband except what the wife had before she was
married and whatever is in the ketubah. The secular court now requires
the Bet Din to split the property between the husband and wife (no
details given). There is also a need to reorganize the Bet Din according
to modern administrative rules with methods to control recalcitrant
      Today the Bet Din is one of the ways that the non-religious
community views the religious community in Israel and it doesn't create
good feelings. Creating a secular divorce can improve the relationship
between the two communities.

      (One issue the author does not discuss is the recent suggestion of
Rabbi Willig and the OU for putting conditions in the marriage ceremony
that would make it easier to enforce a "get later).



From: Shaul Wallach <F66204@...>
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 94 12:05:48 IST
Subject: Guidelines for Modesty (revised, sorry again!)

     Both Danny Skaist and Zvi Weiss have questioned some of the modesty
guidelines for women that I posted from a booklet bearing the approval
of Rabbi Shemuel Wosner, the Av Beit Din of Zichron Meir in Benei Beraq.
Zvi's main conceptual objections are that these guidelines don't
necessary apply to places outside Benei Beraq, and ignore the parallel
guidelines that apply to the men. In a similar vein, Claire Austin
likewise proposed giving the verse in Psalms 45:14 addressed exclusively
to women an "alternative interpretation" which addresses the virtue of
modesty for men as well.

     There is, of course, no question that men are required to restrain
themselves just like the women. In fact, in some ways halacha is even
stricter with the men than with the women. According to the Shulhan
`Arukh (Even Ha-`Ezer 21), for example, if a man encounters a woman in
the market, he must run until she is either to his side or behind him.
There is no parallel requirement for women. Similarly, it is men whom
the Mishna in Avot tells not to indulge in conversation with other
women, while women are not similarly cautioned not to speak with men.
For men there is a whole book, Re'ei Hayyim by R. Hayyim Wosner, that
touches on men's modesty and its importance in preserving marital

     The only minor quibble I have with Claire Austin is that the men's
obligation is not learned from the verse in Psalms 45, but from Job
31:1 - "I made a covenant with my eye, not to look at a virgin." The
Midrash (Tanhuma Wayyishlah 5), for example, cites this verse as well
as the verse in Psalms. However, this Midrash derives the women's
virtue from the men's duty; that is, since men are not supposed to look
at women, women should not be accustomed to be outside (eg. in the
market or in the street) where men cannot not look at them. Thus a woman
cannot say "men shouldn't look at me that way" and claim freedom to
go wherever she wants. In the exact same way, men cannot say "women
shouldn't be here" but must avoid women wherever they are.

     In this context, Esther Posen's correct observation that men are
more open to temptation is well taken. She has revealed to us what
appears to be an incontrovertible part of human nature. In recognizing
this, the purpose of the Midrash seems to be to make both men and women
aware of this and to foster their cooperation in minimizing the chances
for temptation to present itself.

     Unfortunately, Zvi takes me for more than I really am and expects
me to present a general discussion of modesty. I am not qualified to do
this, and the most I can find at the moment is the book "El Ha-Meqorot"
(first volume, Benei Beraq, Nisan 5736) whch devotes a section to "Ish
U-Veito" (man and his house). In this section there are articles by
Ha-Rabbanit Rachel Neriya, Ha-Rabbanit Yehudit Kook A"H and Ha-Rav Prof.
Nahum Lamm. Also worth mentioning are articles on "The Figure of the
Woman in Judaism" by Ha-Rav Ephrayim Zemel and "The Crown of Modesty"
by Ha-Rav Elimelech Bar Shaul Z"L.

     As for the authority of Rabbi Wosner, I'm sure it extends well
outside Zichron Meir. The latter is also not the most frum neighborhood
in Benei Beraq today, nor is Rabbi Wosner the strictest halachic
authority in Israel. The booklet for women (in particular, for high
school students, as became clear to me after looking at it more closely)
for high school students) is in demand by the thousands, and requests
have come for it from the States as well. It appears to be addressed in
general to girls attending Haredi schools such as those of the Beit
Ya`aqov network. I am honestly not aware of any standards which Rabbinic
authorities have established for modesty in other places besides Benei
Beraq. Perhaps others can find such guidelines, for the sake of a
comparative discussion.

     Neither the booklet nor the anonymous posters that appear in Benei
Beraq from time to time reveal any desire for "keeping women in line"
or to "intimidate" them. On the contrary, the recent agitation I have
seen comes from people who sincerely want our leaders to take more
active roles in making the message of the Torah known to the people,
not only in matters of Zeni`ut but in a host of other fields as well.
In these there is no preference to addressing women over men at all. I
would humbly suggest being more careful about ascribing such motives
to distinguished Torah scholars like Rabbi Wosner and his disciples.

     I have little to say about the specific contents of the booklet.
The sources are not given and I do not have the time to look them up.
I will say only that a man who avoids looking at women in Benei Beraq
is not considered at all "rude". And there actually is an introduction
that tells the girls what Zeni`ut is about before going into the
practical details. If anyone is interested in reading the booklet
itself instead of relying on what I quoted from it, it can be ordered
from Rabbi Zvi Schenck (or his family), Hazon Ish 49, Benei Beraq,
Israel. The cost is very minimal - 1 Sheqel, plus postage if you want
it sent by mail.




End of Volume 16 Issue 16