In last weeks Daf Yomi, there are a whole series of Mishnayot that deal with whether one can testify in court as to their own status (I was married but now I am divorced, I am a cohen etc.).

One of the cases that stands out for me is the case of a woman who is taken captive (a fate that was assumed to include rape). In one permutation the woman testifies both to the fact that she was indeed taken captive and to the fact that she was not raped and is still kosher to marry a Cohen. The Rabbis argue that if she willingly tells us that she was taken captive – and is essentially prohibiting herself from certain marriages- then we will also believe her when she
says ‘I was not raped’- removing that same prohibition. However when someone else offers the information that she was taken captive, the statistics (the assumption that most women are raped in captivity) determine her fate and she has no option to add the information that she personally was not raped during her captivity.

I find myself thrown back and forth between two images of women. One image is the conniving women, who is willing to lie in order to save herself. She is the woman the Rabbis worry about, the woman who hides that she was taken captive and only when an outside source reveals this fact does she counter by saying nothing happened during her captivity. On the other end of the spectrum I imagine a meek quiet scared woman, who naturally might want to keep quiet about her embarrassing or perhaps terrifying experience in captivity. She indeed was not raped and now will not be believed because she had decided not to speak about her experience.

I guess real women are somewhere in between, though I have compassion for both the woman who chose not to speak and lost her chance to save her reputation, and the brazen woman, brave enough to lie in order to save herself from prohibitions against her. I understand that courts need rules- but if a woman can’t testify about what happened to her body and is rather judged on statistical grounds, it doesn’t bode well for their voice in society.

The power of witnessing and then testifying or speaking about ones traumatic experiences has been lauded as one of the most important ways of overcoming trauma. Part of this process is of course to have a listener who accepts and validates the person’s experience. On the one hand this gemarah encourages women to speak out about what has happened to them immediately- like filing a police report right after an incident. On the other hand it leaven little room for the very natural phenomenon of an initial period of silence before people feel capable to talking about their experiences.


Here is some more info on the appointments of the most recent group of 19 Rabbinic Court judges. The game is all political. For a long while political battles have held up the appointment of these judges. Most recently in July the Israeli Bar association filed a petition to the high court claiming that the commission had appointed the latest judges for political reasons and not for their abilities (12 out of the 15 were Charedi).  But this week the Justice Minister did finally manage to quiet all the political rivalries. His office is calling it a success. Now that 14 out of the 19 are Charedi it's all better, right?

The Mafdal (National Religious party) was mollified with 5 out of the 19 seats, while Shas took at least 7 of the other seats, 14 of the seats are Charedi men. The articles I found on Haaretz and Ynet, don't go into specific names or even the complete political make up of the judges- I guess no one really cares all that much....

The ministry of Justice is seeing it as a political victory that the political groups were all satisfied but the women's groups were not: "Once again in appointing these judges, women are sacrificed at the alter of political pragmatism," said
Batya Kahane of Mavoi Satum.


Well put ....but pretty depressing:  Batya Cahana Dror an attorney for Mavoi Satum sums up the state of the newly appointed judges to the Rabbinic Court in an interview with Haaretz today:

[T]he appointments "set the rabbinical courts' format for the next 40 years as a patriarchal institution ruled by the ultra-Orthodox community. It perpetuates the discrimination between women and men and reflects radical, conservative, monolithic halakhic views that are opposed to the halakha's spirit."


I found a very interesting post on last Thursdays daf, which dealt with issues of witnesses: When a man tries to extort his wife for money by claiming in divorce court that he married off their young daughter without her knowledge to an undisclosed man- do we believe him?

Check out this blog- it suggests to me that we have leeway within halacha to believe this man- essentially changing the status of his daughter to an aguna, since we have no idea to whom she has been married, as well as leaving intact the power of his attempt at extortion- or we can decide he is simply not to be believed without further proof, freeing the daughter and wife from his power. If both are halachikly viable routes, how could we possibly choose to believe such a man?


By the looks of this bride, will she have a fair shot at a civil and mutual divorce, if need be?

Several Rabbis took the time to respond to a recent article on Agunot, published in the Wallstreet Journal (written by a friend of mine, Bary Wiees). They took the time to massage certain points Barry made which makes my blood boil- so I will take the time to respond.

1.    Only 180 Orthodox women are waiting for a get and are being held up by their husbands.

I don’t know where the numbers are coming from, nobody does. The advocates suggest 10,000 that is also an estimate. If I didn’t think it was a waste of time and energy that could be better spent helping individual women, I would suggest that an official study be done, but I think the advocates have their hands full with more that 180 cases.

I do not trust the Rabbanut to tell us how many women are unfairly waiting for a get. There are quite many halchik categories that can be manipulated to get a low number. I heard from a Toenet (a women lawyer for Rabbinical courts) that on the door to the court room or Dayan’s office there is a sign about how good married life is. When the court decides that the couple should “go work it out” (even though the couple is clearly separated) do they count this is an aguna?

Also why is the number quoted conspicuously of Orthodox agunot- what happened to the rest of Israeli society that is required to use this corrupt Beit Din?

2.    The system is not broken only people are problematic.

Yes people are problematic, but a system that gives more leverage to one side of the couple than the other brings out the worst in men who may be hurting about their break up.  

The system IS broken. Our system includes a ketuba, this is a sum of money that the man promises at the beginning of the marriage that should they separate he will pay her (kind of like an ancient version of alimony). Toanot report that the very basic first step of all divorce proceedings is for the woman to give up on her ketuvah in exchange for the get.

And then we are surprised when that is followed by more extortion. The system is broke.

3.    There are many creative laws and ways to move divorces alone.

Yes there are, and they may be better applied in America where the secular government is trying to help create oversight and use civil divorce as a way to force people to divorce appropriately.

But not so in Israel. There is no civil oversight over the Rabbinical courts. Most of the judges are political appointments that have no specific training or sympathy for this line of work. Further they are so obsessed with not “forcing a divorce” that they hardly ever use the creative tools afforded to them- sanctions on husbands such as taking away a driver’s license etc.

4. There are just as many men waiting for divorces

How many men do you know that have been waiting 6, 8, 12 years for a divorce. I am sure that divorce is ugly and many men and women take a year or even two to iron out details. It is not the same.

5. The prenup – wonderful idea. Last I heard it has not yet been tested in court and most lawyers do not think it will hold up. I do believe in it. I think if you can convince your fiancé to sign a prenup this means you already have a working relationship that respects both parties, and the husband will have some awareness of the pain caused to agunot before he is put to the test.

By the way, in Israel you have to sign a prenup at the Rabbanut’s office. Don’t be surprised, if they can’t find the form, or outright tell you shouldn’t or can’t sign it. Or they make you feel so guilty that you are thinking of divorce on your wedding day that you yourself decide not to sign. But the ketubah a big part of our tradition does just that- prepares for eventualities on the wedding day itself- oops I forgot they don’t honor ketuboth anymore anyway.



On tomorrow’s daf (Ketuboth 17) the Talmud describes the importance of dancing and making merry in front of a bride at her wedding.

I was struck by the strange addition that is wedged in between quoting lyrics of a song sung to the bride and a passage describing the types of juggling performed for her. The flow of the Gemarah jumps from songs for a bride (“you don’t need eye shadow nor rouge- you are beautiful) to songs for Rabbis. First the Rabbis sing the very same song about natural beauty that doesn’t require make up to Rav Zeiri at his misibat smicha (his ordination party). Then it describes songs sung about he intelligence of the smicha students being ordained, and lastly the Gemarah records the song of peace sung by the women of the Caesar’s palace who greet the visiting Rabbi. All songs that focus on the beauty, intelligence, and prestige of men.

And then without a blink of an eye the Gemarah returns to the wedding, returns to dancing with the bride.

What came to mind was a chapter in Boyarin’s book Carnal Israel. He advances a theory that the Rabbis are more in love with their learning and their chavrutot (male learning partners) than their wives. He doesn’t go so far as to call the Rabbis gay- but I think he may be hinting at it (as far as I can remember). In our Gemarah as well the discussion about singing songs of women’s beauty makes the Rabbis think of each other and not the women who they have been objectifying as virgins and non virgins for the last 17 pages.

In fact I’m not sure if the Rabbis are genuine at all when they sing and dance in front of the bride. Hillel says in his humane tone, that one should praise the beauty of a bride even if she is not beautiful. He compares her to a piece of bad merchandise, which should be praised only if it can’t be returned to the shuk. If anything it is for the husband, who has already chosen his produce to whom the song is meant to comfort. Hillel could or should have said, every bride has something genuinely worth admiring, instead of suggesting that some occasions it is appropriate to lie.

Also the Gemarah tells us of Rav Acha who used to dance with the bride on his shoulders. When other Rabbis enquire whether they should follow his example, they are told they too can carry the bride on their shoulders only if they can envision the bride as a board (a non arousing image). I’m not arguing that lustful Rabbis should go around carrying other men’s brides on their shoulders. In fact I didn’t miss it at my wedding, and I think a chair carried by strong modern women, does the same trick. But I am disturbed by the detachment that these Rabbis must summon in order to falsely praise brides that they don’t find attractive and coldly carry around brides they in fact do fancy. What must they be thinking about as they detach from their true emotions? Maybe their chavrutas.


Shanna Tova to all.

I davened this Rosh Hashana at a progressive orthodox minyan that is slowly heading toward egalitarianism. Women lead pezukei dzimra, torah reading, kabbalat Shabbat- generally things other than chazarat Hashatz. Though it is far from total equality- it is named the Minyan Shivyoni shel Baka.

At the start of davening it felt truly amazing to be praying with a community that believes strongly in feminism and in halacha’s amazing strength as a dynamic growing system that can with stand change. Instead of feeling like I should be asking God to forgive me for my feminist “sins” of the year, (which I often feel when I pray amongst more frum crowds) I was able to focus on the things that I really believe I need to change about myself.

Unfortunately by the end of chag my excitement was waning. With Mussaf being such a central part of davening on Rosh Hashana, there was a sense that the women were bring thrown a bone, leading Avinu Malkenu, le’David Mizmor, and the shortened kabbalat shabbat. The inclusion of women in things “less important” illustrated how limited our progress truly is.

On the other hand us women have a lot of learning to do about how to lead and how to inspire as shlichot ztibbur. I for one felt an amazing rush crying out “Hashem hu melech Hacavod” in Ledavid Mizmor, standing in front of the open Aron. I had never managed to feel the power of declaring God’s kingship in my private tefilot as I did at that moment. On the other hand I am not sure whether my voice wavered or whether the kahal was moved by my amateur agility with the nusach.

Slowly slowly, I think we are on the right track.  


I was fascinated to learn this piece of halachik sociology on daf 6a of Ketuboth. There is a debate over whether a man can have sex with a virgin on a Friday night, for it is normally prohibited to wound or draw blood on Shabbat.

In the end the Rabbis decide that one is allowed to sleep with his virgin bride on a Friday night. However, in one beit midrash they allow it and believe that the rival beit midrash does not allow it; while in the very same rival beit midrash they do allow it but believe that their counterparts do not.

There seems to be a deep seated desire, that when permitting a leniency and allowing a certain act that might have originally been assur (prohibited), to know that someone out there is still being Machmir, some other group is maintaining the stringency.

I wonder if we see this today in Israeli society, where many Israeli’s are not religious but they still think of “authentic” Judaism as being the charedi way. They unfortunately do not see the beauty in modern versions of halacha. More accurately perhaps for this gemarah, I also think we in the modern orthodox community like the taste of rebellion and the feeling of testing the limits while others tow the line.


On Rosh Hashana we say that Teshuva- Repentance- and Tefila- Prayer- and Tzedaka- Charity- will change our decree. To me this means, mental, emotional and tangible action needs to be taken simultaneously to start our year off right, to change our habits, shed unwanted weight and start over.

Problem is, for those of us Orthodox Jews, once Rosh Hashana starts we won't be writing checks to charity. So it occurred to me this year to think about charity the week before the holiday starts. I'm throwing a gambling party where once you buy in your money goes to Tzedaka, specifically all the money will be donated to Mavoi Satum, one of the many organizations that work to help agunot. Here are some other women's organizations in Jerusalem you might want to support this year.


This thought is two day late if you are following the Daf Yomi cycle, but I only really understood the absurdity of what I learned a few days later in review.

Even though a virgin is supposed to get married on a Wednesday, there are exceptions. In a period of danger the custom was changed to Tuesday. What was the danger? First night rights, the practice where a ruler rapes the virgin bride-to-be on her wedding night (a la Braveheart).  Good reason to change your wedding day, don’t you think?

But the Gemarah isn’t sure that such a danger would warrant changing this very solid custom. The real problem is those stubborn righteous (modest) women who would prefer to be killed than submit to the violence of rape. The rabbis, consternated by the modest women, propose that maybe they should teach publicly that rape is not considered adultery. You are still allowed to go back to your husband, no need to give up your life, no long term damage done.

On the other hand the Rabbis don’t want to publicize that first night rights is not considered adultery because then the lascivious women will enjoy the first night rights and therefore actually be prohibited from returning to their husband having chosen to have sex and not been raped.

The fact that rape is not really given a standing of its own in Jewish law, that it is only a problem when it's adulterous, is astounding to me every time I come across it. In the context of this Gemarah, where it is so important that the woman’s virginity be saved for her husband alone – the intention behind the Wednesday wedding– I am baffled that the rabbis would even consider maintaining the custom at the cost of the woman’s rape.  Is the first night of sex not traumatic enough; we shouldn’t even entertain the possibility, no matter how theoretical, of accepting the barbaric practices of virgin up for grabs to the most powerful.