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In Israel, Rabbinical Courts have equal status to Secular Courts; the decisions of either one are binding and either one may be used, depending upon the desire of the litigants. The area of divorce, however, is determined solely by the Religious Courts. Therefore, all Jewish women in Israel – regardless of their individual religious affiliation – must go to a Rabbinical Court for matters of personal status and divorce.
Amazingly, until 1991, only male advocates (toanim) were allowed to represent a client in the rabbinical courts. In practice, this was grossly unfair to women, who very often had difficulty articulating emotional turmoil or describing their personal plight to male representatives – particularly when it came to sharing intimate details. As a result, many compelling reasons to grant the divorce never reached the ears of the judges, putting women at a distinct disadvantage.
In 1990, Ohr Torah Stone sued the rabbinical courts in a bid to train women and certify them as advocates in the Rabbinical Courts. Ultimately, the case reached the Supreme Court and, on appeal, OTS finally won for women the legal right to practice in the Courts. Thus, the Monica Dennis Goldberg Women’s Advocate Program was inaugurated.
The rabbinate contested the credentials of the very first graduating class, and OTS once again found itself in court. Finally, by the end of 1994, the program successfully won recognition from Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Chief Sephardi Rabbi, Knesset and Supreme Court.
Having completed an intensive study of the halacha (Jewish Law) pertaining to personal status, marriage and divorce, graduates of the Monica Dennis Goldberg program are fully equipped to represent clients in a knowledgeable and professional manner.
Major concentration areas of the Talmud include tractates Baba Batra and Ketubot, Hoshen Mishpat (testimonial law and civil damages), and Even Ha’Ezer (laws of Personal Standing), though graduates are also fluent in other topics related to women’s rights in Judaism, Jewish law as it pertains to the husband’s rights to a wife’s property, child custody, giving and receiving the Jewish writ of divorce (the get), alimony and support payments, and testimony – who may testify, in what circumstances, which cases require testimony, written vs. verbal testimonies and testimonies in the cases involving finances.
Program alumnae are also authorities on the workings of a religious court system and well-trained in courtroom procedures, which are different in protocol and practice from those of a civil courtroom. In addition, they have received special training in counseling, rhetoric and conflict resolution.
Finally, the Monica Dennis Goldberg program trains participants to be completely conversant in relevant areas of Israeli civil law, specifically contract law, torts and damages, the laws of gift-giving, laws pertaining to couple’s finances, preparation of files for negotiations, filing briefs and appeals in the civil courts, drawing up divorce documents, monetary alimony and child support, dismissal and changes to agreements.
Graduates of the program are more than just certified professionals; they are completely dedicated to and passionate about their work. They are crusaders, infused with the spirit that guided the school’s establishment, and dedicated to effecting real change.
In September 1997, the Monica Dennis Goldberg school took the next step in the logical growth of the program, initiating the Yad L’isha Legal Aid Center and Hotline, to benefit women of all ages, affiliations and backgrounds who cannot afford to retain the services of program graduates working privately in the field.