Through perspective-altering seminars, CWJ continues to encourage future lawyers to challenge legal norms in order to create a more fair and just Israel.
In a January 2017 workshop with Bar Ilan University law students, CWJ Director Dr. Susan Weiss outlined the problems with Israel’s legal system, which preferences religious rights over women’s human rights. The session was conducted in partnership with the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Program for Legal Aid for Women.
Weiss’ talk underscored the responsibility of civil (secular) courts to uphold justice, irrespective of religious laws and values. She urged students to rethink the broader ideological implications of the present system, which allows for state-backed violations of human rights. For young law students formulating their professional identities in particular, it is critical to convey that the focus of legal action in areas of religion and state must be on the system that creates and perpetuates such injustice in the first place.
Through an exploration of CWJ’s signature ‘tort for get refusal’ strategy (filing damage suits in secular courts against husbands who withhold a get), students began to understand that get recalcitrance constitutes a severe infringement on every women’s rights rather than an individual’s predicament. Weiss suggested that the problem is rooted in the state, which allows for and enforces religious marriage laws that impinge on women’s freedoms. She argued that marriage alternatives must be found if Israel wishes to remain a democratic and free country.
Students were surprised to discover that aginut (Jewish women chained to dead marriages because their husbands refuse to grant a get) extends to other religions and cultures. Susan described the phenomenon of ‘marital captivity’ – a term coined by European activists and attorneys to describe the status of Muslim women whose religion also requires a husband’s permission to divorce. Weiss related how lawyers in Europe are beginning to adapt CWJ’s proven tort approach to free Muslim women from unviable marriages. Students were inspired by the far-reaching potential of legal innovation to improve the lives of countless women in ways they could never have imagined.
CWJ’s law school seminars serve as an invaluable lens that reshapes the next generation’s worldview. After the workshop, one student remarked that Weiss’ emphasis on human rights violations and the duties of the civil justice system opened his eyes to the big-picture approach, which he had previously not considered or understood. By framing religion and state issues in this context, CWJ ignites the spark that these young lawyers-to-be will eventually develop into innovative solutions and creative approaches to address stalemated problems.
CWJ is indebted to the following foundations and federations whose deep belief in the power of education facilitated this workshop, laying the groundwork for a more democratic Israel: the David Berg Foundation, Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches, Jewish Women’s Foundation of South Palm Beach County, and the Kathryn Ames Foundation, as well as donors whose general support provides a secure foundation for advancing our work. Their commitment ensures that our educational message spreads and helps create the desire for lasting change.