Yad L’isha – Helping Hand for Woman is a Legal Aid Center and Hotline where free legal advice and representation is offered to women locked in marital prisons who would otherwise have nowhere to turn.
The center and hotline were established in 1997 by the Monica Dennis Goldberg School of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions and is staffed entirely by the school’s graduates. Technically, the center’s goal is to release its clients from the bonds of marriage; in actuality they are saving the lives of women and their children by them to reclaim their freedom.
In 2001, Batsheva Sherman-Shani joined the Legal Aid Center and Hotline to serve as a Rabbinical Court Advocate. A tireless activist who lobbies, protests, publishes articles in newspapers and appears on television to raise awareness of the problem, Ms Sherman was appointed the Center’s Director in 2004. Activist Sherman is also a lawyer, earning her Law Degree and her Rabbinical Court Advocacy simultaneously at Bar Ilan University.
Divorce in Israel is not always straightforward: the religious courts have exclusive jurisdiction over marital issues, a fact that necessitates civil lawyers understand Jewish law. Here is where someone like Batsheva Sherman — and the Yad L’isha Legal Aid Center — fulfill a vital role. “We need to train more women advocates, but we have also identified the need to reach out specifically to civil attorneys,” says Sherman-Shani.
Each week, a group of civil lawyers meets in an intensive training program where they study the Jewish legalities of divorce. The initiative brings together rabbis, judges, lawyers and rabbinical advocates, who demonstrate how to argue the intricacies of Jewish law to protect the rights of vulnerable women. The course also focuses on some of the methods used by recalcitrant husbands to evade their responsibilities, even blackmailing their wives in exchange for the get, and teaches them on how to deal with these situations within the framework of halacha. “We’ve found that the lawyers are amazed at the sophistication of Jewish law,” says Sherman-Shani. “They find it refreshing to hear Orthodox voices which are sensitive to the needs of women,” she reveals.
Since its inception, Yad L’isha has proven that Jewish law can be used to defend the rights of women in the modern world. “But unfortunately, the need for the continued existence of the Center and its women advocates is illustrated in each new case we undertake,” says Sherman-Shani. “It is heartbreaking to witness the injustice that so many women encounter in their divorce proceedings.”
It is estimated that in Israel there are currently hundreds, if not thousands, of agunot, chained women, who remain locked in dead or abusive marriages. The Yad L’isha Legal Aid Center and Hotline was established specifically to represent and release these women. Whether working to free individual women trapped in abusive marriages, or fighting for change on a systemic level, women advocates like Batsheva Sherman continue their tireless quest for justice for the aguna in particular, and for Jewish women in general.Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson