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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Womens Rights Activist Calls Status of Religious Israeli Women Dismal

Published: February 9, 2007
Section: News

In a recent visit to Brandeis University, Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a leading expert in the field of Womens Rights from Bar Ilan University, called the status of religious women in Israeli society as bad as Indias.

Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University of Israel and a member of the UN expert Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) spoke to Brandeis students on Tuesday. During her lecture, Halperin-Kaddari said that when it comes to Israeli womens rights, compared to India, we are similar, and doing just as bad.

Speaking in the Epstein Buildings Womens Studies Center, Halperin-Kaddari listed several factors as the root causes for sexual inequality within the state of Israel. She added that Israels military system, which almost every Israeli man and woman is required to enter, is based on a system of hierarchy in which men dominate. She noted that only men are allowed to become part of the air force, be active combatants, and be part of certain intelligence units. As a result, when they leave the army and join the civil work force, men have an inherent advantage when searching for a job.

Halperin-Kaddari added that of the 120 seats available in Israels Parliament, the Knesset, approximately 40 of them are held by religious parties, Jewish or Arab, and are therefore closed to women. Furthermore, she said, women are forbidden from serving on the Rabbinical courts, Israels courts of Jewish law.

Halperin-Kaddari emphasized that issues of gender inequality are not confined to just institutional realms. Within certain religious neighborhoods, such as Bnei Brak, buses have separate seating where men sit in the front and women sit in the back. Weve had a couple of Rosa Parks figures, said Halperin-Kaddari, and at least one of them was severely beaten by an Orthodox man.

Halperin-Kaddaris biggest complaint was that Orthodox women who choose to divorce their husbands cannot do so without their consent. In order to obtain a get, or divorce, women must plead their case before a Rabbinical court entirely composed of men, who usually side with the husband.

Oftentimes, Halperin-Kaddari said, the husband will grant a get on the condition that all matters of the divorce, including the division of property and children, be settled in the Rabbinical court as well, a provision that the Rabbinical court usually agrees with. The woman is therefore forced to comply with these terms, and if she chooses to appear before a secular civil court, the Rabbinical court nullifies the get retroactively. That made me angry, said David Nash 08. I think its absolutely ridiculous that in the state of Israel someone could be denied a divorce.

Halperin-Kaddari added forcefully that if a get is invalidated…and the woman has already started a new family with a different husband, suddenly she is illegal! She also noted that this type of problem is not just confined to Israel, but occurs in many countries where religion plays a part in forming national law.

Halperin-Kaddari said that religious authorities such as the Rabbinical courts are in a state of denial when it comes to morals and support repression, creating universal backlash against women in family law. Sometimes, she added, womens testimony is regarded as not as credible, and sometimes not even allowed.

A solution, she stated, will only be reached when equality is accepted by all, and local, tribal and religious groups agree to take part. For now, though, she said there is no solution in the near future since the religious factions have not agreed to such equality, and its painful for me, as a religious Jewish woman, to admit.

Overall, the lecture gave a positive impression and was followed by an enthusiastic ovation. Nash said she expressed her passion about the subject and at the same time was very informativesome things she said I agreed with, others I didnt.

Halperin-Kaddari concluded the lecture with a very sobering note. You have heard of the expression take two steps forward, one step backward,' she said. When it comes to the current progress of [womens equality,] Im not convinced. Right now, we are many steps backward.