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Posts Tagged ‘Council’

Standing Idly By

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Presumably, almost all the readers of this publication are Orthodox Jews – those that pride themselves on serving G-d through fulfilling His commandments. Keeping in mind the rabbinical edict, “A mitzvah that comes your way—don’t miss it!” (Rashi, Bavli Megillah 6b), it would behoove the readers to know that an oft-missed mitzvah has come their way.

The Torah warns us twelve times to have special consideration towards the orphan and the widow – yatom v’almanah. The first such commandment appears in Shemot 22,21: “Any widow or orphan you are not to afflict.” It is followed directly by a description of the consequences to society in its entirety if there is affliction. It is frightening to print in a newspaper column; readers will have to refer to the original.

Rashi clarifies that in essence we are warned not to cause suffering to any individual: “This is the law for all people, here the text spoke in accordance with present reality, for they [widows and orphans] are weak of strength and it is common to find them afflicted.” Or as the Soncino Edition (J.H. Hertz, 1962) commentary states: “Who are bereft of their human protector and destitute of the physical force to defend their rights.” Ibn Ezra adds: “For all who sees one who afflicts an orphan or widow and does not come to their aid, he is also considered to be an afflictor.” Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch enlightens us further: “The widow has lost her mouth in her husband, has nobody to speak for her any longer. The orphan…[suffers from the] misuse his weakness and lack of protection…even rich widows and orphans are easier to be taken advantage of and misused, than other people… in society, amongst people…they are bereft of anybody to stand up for them, to protect them, guide and advise them, and so are exposed to be wronged and humiliated. Hence, in their case the Torah addresses primarily the members of the community in the plural ‘thou shalt not misuse their weakness or make them feel the weakness of their position.’”

Rashi related the mitzvah to reality. The reality today is that there is another individual who has lost her support, has suffered the abuse of her rights and who has no man to serve as her pillar of support. That is the modern-day agunah—the victim of Get-refusal. In fact, the very man upon whom the agunah originally depended to honor her and act as her protector turns against her and abuses his power over her.

There is one agunah today in the United States who is both orphaned of her father and whose husband is refusing (as of the time of this printing) to give her a get. This is Tamar Epstein. Lest one think that this is a problem solely for the rabbis and not for the layperson — the rabbis have already done their utmost to convince Mr. Aharon Friedman to give Ms. Epstein a get, to no avail. In fact not only did the Beth Din of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada issue an Declaration of Contempt (ktav seiruv – see page F1 in this week’s newspaper) against Mr. Friedman, the rabbinic judges included a plea directed to all: “Any person who has the ability or opportunity to influence him to free Tamar Epstein from the chains of her agunah status is obligated to do so and doing so will indeed be the fulfillment of a great mitzvah.”

Each and every reader of these words is now aware of a biblical commandment (mitzvah d’oraita) and a rabbinic-ordained commandment (mitzvah d’rabbanan) to help Tamar Epstein achieve her get. Moreover, most readers recite every Tuesday at the close of the morning prayers (shacharit): “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy…” Someone has to help Tamar Epstein find relief from the affliction she is suffering. Will you heed the words you yourself recite in prayer? Will you take the mitzvah of helping Tamar to heart? How can you help deliver the get to her hand? It is incumbent upon each and every one in the Orthodox community to consider how he or she can help. It is not easy for readers sitting in the comfort of their own home to actually take action. For that reason an additional commandment was necessary to spell out that one may not stand by when a fellow Jew is in a position of need. It is human nature to need that extra push in order to have the will to help.  Now that you know, you cannot stand idly by.

Editor’s Note:  A protest rally against Mr. Aharon Friedman’s recalcitrance has been organized by ORA and will be held on Sunday, December 4th, 1 PM at 1131 University Blvd., Silver Spring, Md.

Rachel Levmore, Ph.D. in Jewish Law from Bar Ilan University, is a rabbinical court advocate; coordinator of the Agunah and Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel and the Jewish Agency; and author of “Min’ee Einayich Medim’a” on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal.

 

Recognizing Shame On International Agunah Day

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Editor’s Note: International Agunah Day is marked yearly on Ta’anit Esther, which falls this year on Thursday, March 17.

It began in the United States with the Yiddish newspaper the Forward in the first half of the 20th century. The galeriye fun farshvundene mener (gallery of vanished husbands) appeared regularly, listing names and photos of men who had disappeared leaving their wives as agunot, chained to a Jewish marriage. The Jewish Press followed in the latter decades of the century, launching its own weekly seiruv list.

At the turn of the 21st century the rabbinical courts in Israel realized the potential of the Internet and began listing the names, photos and descriptions of the most extreme cases of get-refusers under the title “Most Wanted” (www.rbc.gov.il). Shortly thereafter, the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (www.getora.com) began to prominently display those who have had seiruvim issued against them, in a measure intended to convince recalcitrant husbands to release their wives.

Yet the shameful list grows along with the unprecedented flow of information. The situation is so severe that the agunah problem has been increasingly visible in the media, both general and Jewish.

The Washington Post (Feb. 5, 2006 about Sarah and Sam Rosenbloom), the Wall Street Journal (Aug 24, 2007 about Susan Rosenfeld and Ariel Hacohen), YouTube (Dec. 19, 2010 about Tamar Epstein and Aharon Friedman) and The New York Times (Jan 3, 2011, Epstein and Freidman) have examined the supposed “shaming” of the get-refusers. In doing so, however, these secular media outlets also exposed the shame of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Our community prides itself on the morality inherent in our laws and customs. The wisdom of our rabbis is drawn upon by national committees dealing with ethical questions such as abortion and organ transplants. We lift our communal head high when one of our members is recognized by the world at large for a noteworthy contribution.

Moreover, the Orthodox world touts its stable family units where the woman is valued and praised every Friday night. How tragic is it, then, that the same community demonstrates by its actions – or rather its inaction – that a woman is not truly valued? She is not considered worthy or capable of making the weighty decision to exit a dead marriage – certainly not enough that the wisdom of the rabbis should be applied to help her extricate herself from an untenable situation.

On the surface, we have a clash between precepts of democracy and Jewish law. It is a biblical injunction, d’oraita, that a man must give his wife a get willingly in order for the divorce to take place. So, according to Torah law, a man can divorce his wife while a woman cannot divorce her husband. (According to rabbinic law a man cannot divorce his wife without her agreement as well, though there is an “escape clause” of heter me’ah rabbanim.) However, this premise is not being called into question here. It is the deeper and more complex dimension of the role of the rabbis that is being addressed in the discussions of the press.

At its core, the problem is not that of the man having power over the woman – it is of the man having power over the rabbis.

While rabbis and community leaders at the time of the Forward’s gallery of vanished husbands truly believed they were doing all they could to end the suffering of agunot by searching for the wayward husbands, that level of effort does not suffice today. The rabbis must recognize that there are great dangers in the present situation, where a rabbinical court is dependent on a recalcitrant husband to put its ruling into effect.

There are dangers to the wife; to the joint children who need co-parenting; to her future never-to-be born children or even future children from another man while an agunah; and, on a communal level, to the very fabric of the Orthodox Jewish community where rabbis are expected to be the ultimate leaders. Because rabbis are allowing individual men to refuse to heed their rulings. And it is there for the world to see.

There are halachic processes for the rabbis to take back their authority. For example, the Rabbinical Council of America demands that each couple marrying under its auspices sign the prenuptial agreement of the Beth Din of America designed to prevent get-refusal. But where are the rabbis of other communities? Why is there not a wall-to-wall rabbinical coalition dealing with the problem of get-refusal? Where is the standardized communal obligation to sign a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal?

Kosher Tidbits from around the Web – October 29, 2007

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Dave Cook’s Eating in Translation offers tidbits of information on interesting foods from around New York City.  Looking through this past week’s selections there is apple studel from Sander’s in Williamsburg and Kaff’s in Boro Park, as well as a crispy flatbread from Oneg.  
 
Living in LA and looking for a new business – well, there is an established kosher market for sale.  You can click here for more information on this exciting opportunity.

 

rumor has it that the former home of Tintol, a Portugese restaurant will become Clubhouse Caf? – a new club/bar from the owners of Le Marais.  Catering to the young Jewish professional, it will be under OU Supervision. 

 

The Kosher Blog recently reviewed their purchase from R&J Seafoods.  Those of you who love salmon, should surf on over and consider placing an order which you can use to prepare this recipe for Salmon Wontons. 

 

And finally if you are visiting Oak Park – make sure to check out Rami’s Restaurant - glatt kosher under the supervision of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit.

Tenafly, New Jersey Eruv Controversy

Friday, December 7th, 2001

In a brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals in the crucial case involving an eruv in Tenafly, New Jersey, Nathan Lewin, Orthodox Jewry's foremost constitutional litigation lawyer, presented an important argument that will, if successful, insulate all eruvim in the United States against similar constitutional attack. The Tenafly Council ordered Cablevision to remove 183 plastic strips that the Eruv Association had attached to utility poles to be used as “lechis,” which are necessary to complete an eruv. Many reportedly had reason to believe, from the debate that had preceded the order of removal, that Tenafly was simply trying to keep Orthodox Jews out of the town. But all the Council members swore that they had no anti-Orthodox bias ? which would have meant that their action against the eruv was a violation of the Constitution ? and the federal judge believed them.

The Eruv Association is appealing the decision, mainly on the ground that the judge's conclusion as to the issue of the Council-members' motives was wrong. That is a difficult argument to make because appellate courts usually accept “findings of fact” by trial judges. However, Mr. Lewin ? who represents attorney Chaim Book, a plaintiff in the case and the primary force behind the establishment of the eruv ? has presented an ingenious argument that does not depend on whether the Councilmembers lied under oath.

There are thousands of identical plastic strips on utility poles in Tenafly that are used to transmit telephone calls and cable television. If those plastic strips are allowed and even encouraged by Tenafly, how can the Town refuse to allow 183 of the same plastic strips only because they are part of an eruv? Prohibiting the innocuous act of attaching plastic strips to utility poles when they are part of a religious observance while encouraging plastic strips useful for television reception is, according to Mr. Lewin, what violates the Constitution, not the allegedly bad motives of Tenafly's elected officials. And, says Mr. Lewin, the plastic strips are also “symbolic religious speech.” Since Tenafly has allowed orange ribbons on its poles to protest a public-school policy and for “lost-dog” notices, it may not discriminate against a symbol of the eruv.

These sorts of creative arguments ? which appear to us as eminently correct and which should carry the day for the Tenafly eruv ? are what have made Nat Lewin renowned in the American Orthodox Jewish community.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/editorial/tenafly-new-jersey-eruv-controversy/2001/12/07/

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