Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rabbinical court ruling makes mother ‘feel like a harlot’

The invective which was poured out upon the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chief Justice over their proposals to admit Shari’a courts in the UK was focused mainly upon the antithetical nature of its traditions to what has become the British worldview, in particular with respect to democracy and the founding principles of the Enlightenment. The inequality of women and the infringement of their rights in particular was advanced as one reason why there must never be Shari’a matrimonial courts, for the word of a woman, under Shari’a, is worth significantly less than the word of a man.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does this matter if a civil divorce has already been enacted? If the Church of England granted a "religous divorce" (with no effect on the couple's standing under UK law) on the grounds that the husband had commited adultery, should one complain that this shows "little respect that people are free to commit adultery under English law"? Regardless of its rights and wrongs, I don't see why it should be any business of the British state.

30 July 2008 at 11:00  
Blogger Sammy said...

An interesting story Your Grace. Awfully quite here the last few days isn't it?

30 July 2008 at 12:54  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Sammy,

His Grace thinks most of his communicants have gone on holiday, and he is sorely tempted to join them.

30 July 2008 at 13:22  
Blogger Homophobic Horse said...

Today is the day of Prince Kenelm the Child Martyr of Wales. It's a sign. Maybe a holiday to Wales is in order.

30 July 2008 at 14:39  
Anonymous oiznop said...

This is a very interesting story. It's proof that religious courts based on patriarchal scriptures are bound to interpret laws with patriarchal bias. So the men have everything to gain and the women more to lose. But isn't the difference that Beth Din courts aren't superior to state law? The Jewish women could always seek redress through the English courts. Musims wouldn't recognise the state as being above shariah - if the two conflicted, the state would have to give way to the Islamic courts. That's a crucial difference.

30 July 2008 at 14:44  
Blogger Wyrdtimes said...

In England. One law. English law.

30 July 2008 at 16:34  
Blogger Homophobic Horse said...

"In England. One law. English law."

And for the stranger in our midst.

30 July 2008 at 19:13  
Anonymous Jimmy said...

The Beth Din was upholding British law by granting a divorce that had already gone through the British courts. Had they not granted a get then their ruling would have been contrary to British law, so they did the right thing in forcing th woman involved to have a get.

The court's opinion of the woman may be wrong but it is probably the lightest of reasons for granting a get under such circumstances. The flexibility of Jewish courts in such conflicting circumstances should be praised, especially when they go out of their way to comply with British law. The language in the ruling is a means to an end, even if unfortunate and degrading. However, we do not know the details of the British divorce case, which could be brought for far lesser reasons.

We should also remember that it is not long ago that British judges accused rape victims of 'asking for it' if they were wearing mini-skirts. They might as well call the woman involved a harlot. Is the Beth Din really so far behind the enlighted British system of justice?

30 July 2008 at 21:03  
Blogger Earwicker said...

Jimmy’s contribution is not to the point. On the story as reported, Mrs Gabay did not want a get, so the ruling went against her. The grounds appear unsatisfactory on any view. There is no suggestion that she had any substantial basis for opposing a British (or Israeli) secular divorce.
There are many issues here beyond “patriarchy”, and all of them are likely to arise in relation to Sharia courts.
For example:
(1) It appears as though the tribunal that decided this case may not have been independent. Statistically, this is more likely to be the case in a minority community than in society at large. Judges and litigants in Jewish courts come from the same small pool of people. The same applies to Muslims.
(2) Minority communities, such as Jews and Muslims, rely for their communal goods more on contributions from wealthy individuals than does the state at large. A successful Jewish businessman will do more for the Jewish community (by way of donations to synagogues, charities, etc.) than a successful businessman will do for British society. This is largely because the state levies taxes whereas communities do not. It must therefore be harder to obtain justice against a wealthy individual within a minority community than it is in the ordinary courts.
(3) There is a risk of Jews (but mutatis mutandis it might just as easily be Sikhs or Muslims) who would otherwise be sympathetic to Ms Gabay “closing ranks” against outside criticism, thereby exacerbating the injustice she suffers. This is wrong but quite understandable. If I felt a strong sense of loyalty to a community, I would feel the pressure to behave this way.
The truth is that not all that “communities” do is good. Minority communities, by their very nature, exert certain pressures on their members which are not experienced by people at large. This will never be discovered by journalists, politicians and academics if they only engage with “community leaders”, because community leaders are likely to be least aware of these problems and are also likely to be the people with the most to gain from strengthening communities.

30 July 2008 at 21:42  
Anonymous Jenny said...


You've got confused. The Beth Din had no obligation under British Law to enforce or grant a religious divorce, any more than it had the right to grant or enforce a civil divorce, or for that matter a civil marriage (when civil marriages are registered in Churches and other holy houses, it is because someone - the clergyman or a member of the congregation - has been appointed as a civil registrar).

Religious marriages of themselves are not recognised in civil courts. Some don't even contain the right words to form a civil marriage. Some religious wedding ceremonies don't require the consent of the woman at all. So the two forms of marriage, and consequently divorce, are not linked in any way, other than that most Jews and Christians would ordinarily register their wedding with the civil authorities as well as their religious house. You need to separate the two in your mind. Who knows why this lady wishes for a civil, but not a religious divorce; perhaps she didn't care that much whether the state believed she was married, or maybe she's just spiteful. But it's not the point. It's the way the court has done it that is the problem. They've used a method they usually use against adulterers. There has been no suggestion that she is one.

What worries me is, His Grace thinks that there will be trouble for muslim women if shari'a courts are allowed, because this will be the only court the muslim women will have recourse to and it may well be biased. I'm afraid his fears are already a reality. The vast majority of muslim marriages conducted in the UK already take place only at the mosque and are not recognised in the civil courts. The problem is already here, and the women are already suffering.

30 July 2008 at 22:07  
Anonymous roman said...

I agree with Jenny, and feel this is an odd case - married, divorced, re-married, divorced (by civil law) but then not wanting a 'get'?

There certainly is a problem with 'agunahs', but then it's up to the women to effectively say "to hell with the community who treats us like this".

31 July 2008 at 07:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh please. "Organized Religion" is the most destructive and unpleasant aspect of the world today. It is behind Darfur and the middle east,` Pakistan and india, Ulster and Eire. Tens of millions have died in the name of religion. Religions today are all, despite their good works, based on control of power and hierarchy, all are ultimately a confidence trick based on superstition. Islam is probably currently the worst of them, but it comes out of the same stable as Judaism, with similar restrictions on its adherents, from physical mutilation to diet. So if you belong to the religeon, expect grief, or leave it. As the Spanish language has it, religion is a cult; and a pretty unpleasant one. If you wish to believe in a higher power and purpose, do so, but stay away from organized religions!

31 July 2008 at 17:52  
Blogger Tory Black Fist said...

Muslim women have 'rights' agreed upon according to Islam - no more, no less, unless they admit that Islam is not the supreme arbiter.

Same goes for the other semitic non-religion with their equally vile codes - all (like Islam's) aimed at in-group survival and out-group genocide/slavery - It's no use being a Jew and then complaining about Judaism to a goyische audience! The correct and moral response of other peoples is 'screw you!'

Why on earth a Christian should be appealing on behalf of future aggrieved Muslims is beyond me, screw you too Cranmer.

If you can't oppose the Islamification of Britain for what it means for you, you don't oppose Islam.

12 August 2008 at 14:11  

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