Rabbinical court ruling makes mother ‘feel like a harlot’
But a story in the Jewish Chronicle highlights that other religious courts may be prone to patriarchal prejudice, as a Jewish woman in London finds herself being divorced by a rabbinical court against her will because she allegedly wore clothes it deemed ‘provocative’.
Asaf (Asi) and Karin Gabay were originally married and divorced in Israel, remarried in London in 2000 and then obtained a civil divorce here last year. But in order to be able to marry another partner in an Orthodox synagogue, they need a ‘get’ — a religious bill of divorce. A get must be voluntarily given by the man and accepted by the woman. If her husband denies her a get, the wife is left trapped as an ‘agunah’ — a chained woman — who cannot remarry according to Jewish law.
But while the Sephardi Beth Din (Heb. ‘house of judgement’) insists that it has acted in Karin Gabay’s ‘best interests’ to ‘ensure she would be free to remarry’, Mrs Gabay, a mother of seven, said she was ‘devastated’ and ‘completely shocked’ by the court’s ruling.
When Mrs Gabay did not accept the get, the rabbinical court applied a ‘get zikkui’ — divorcing her without her consent. Normally, this is resorted to only in cases of adultery.
The grounds for the get zikkui in this case include ‘religious laxity’ and the assertion that she ‘dressed provocatively, worse than a common harlot’ (succinctly and sensitively put). Mr Gabay told the newspaper that Mrs Gabay had been seen in (shock horror) ‘mini-skirts with long nails and hair extensions’. While this is manifestly unacceptable to the husband, the wife insists that she dresses ‘respectfully’.
It is noteworthy that the Sephardi Beth Din licenses a restaurant run by Mr Gabay, and also one run by his father. And further, the London Beth Din had been handling Mrs Gabay’s case when the Sephardi court intervened. It appears that the man turned to whichever court was most likely to dispense the judgement he required - in this case one presided over by three men already disposed to Mr Gabay and his father - and which appears to have little respect either for the right of a woman under English law to dress as she wishes or for the jurisdiction of other courts.
Sharon Shenhav, head of a women’s-rights project, condemned the decision: “Jewish women have the right to expect to be treated with fairness and justice.”
Quite so, quite so.
There have been rabbinical courts in England for three centuries, yet still there are contentious judgements of Jewish law which favour the male over the female. Cranmer has no doubt that there will be a flood of such cases in the Shari’a courts when Muslim men accuse their wives of ‘religious laxity’ for not wearing a hijab, and the Muslim women find their rights arbitrarily set aside, their reputations ruined, and their self-respect and self-worth set at naught.