Religious Law 101
Whether working to free individual women chained to abusive marriages or fighting for change on a systemic level, the women advocates of Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline widen the circle in their tireless quest for justice for agunot in particular, and for Jewish women in general.
As the largest, most comprehensive and most experienced aguna-support center in the world, Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline is widely recognized as a preeminent authority in the pursuit and implementation of global solutions to the plight of chained women. This is because while many organizations assist agunot in various ways, only Yad La’isha is staffed by women advocates who are fully proficient in Jewish law and in the language and workings of the rabbinical courts. With this expertise, Yad La’isha recently teamed up with the Jerusalem chapter of the Israeli Bar Association to run an accredited, continued education program for Jerusalem-area lawyers who specialize in family law.
“Statistics show that 19% of women who are in the process of divorce are being refused a get,” says Yad La’isha director Pnina Omer. “We have a responsibility to help as many of these women as possible, even if they are not officially our clients. Sometimes a woman will hire a civil lawyer to represent her, and even though that lawyer truly has her best interests at heart, she will be at a disadvantage in the religious courts since civil lawyers are simply not fluent in rabbinic law and procedure. Our goal is to fill in the gaps in the attorneys’ education, so that every woman receives the professional representation that she deserves.”
Since early May, a group of 51 lawyers has gathered at OTS’s Chana and Yaakov Tilles Campus for an intensive eight-week training program in which they study the Jewish legalities of divorce. The initiative, called “Practical Training in Jewish Legal Advocacy,” brings together an outstanding faculty of rabbis, religious court judges from the district courts and rabbinical high court, lawyers, heads of yeshiva and rabbinical court advocates – all of whom demonstrate how best to understand the intricacies of Jewish law, navigate the religious legal system, and protect the rights of vulnerable women. The course includes classes on spousal finances according to Torah law; an overview of the Jewish laws of marriage; Jewish laws of evidence; custody and child support in Jewish law; obligations of the Ketuba – Jewish marriage contract; ramifications of civil marriage; Jewish legal grounds for divorce; people who are forbidden from marrying; nullification of Jewish marriage and more.
In addition, the course helps alert the lawyers to some of the methods used by recalcitrant husbands to evade financial responsibility or blackmail their wives in exchange for the get, instructing them on how to counter such situations within the framework of halakha. “Many of the civil lawyers are surprised by the sophistication of Jewish law and by how much Jewish law shows concern for the needy,” says Omer. “They find it refreshing to hear Orthodox voices which are sensitive to the needs of women.”
The number of participants registered exceeded expectations by 250%; as a result, Yad La’isha is investigating the option of duplicating it in the Tel-Aviv area. “I often represent clients in the rabbinical courts,” said Daniel, a lawyer from Bet-Shemesh, “but I have always felt like they were speaking a different language. The tools I am learning here will undoubtedly help me serve my clients in the best possible way.”
Yishai, another participant, agreed. “This is the first time I’ve attended a complementary law course that I feel like I’m truly learning something new,” he said. “As a family lawyer, I often have to appear in the religious courts, but in that sphere, where the rabbinical judges view our case through the prism of Jewish law and speak in a completely different language, much of my training and experience is useless. Yad La’isha is letting us peek through that lens and teaching us the rudiments of that language.”