CWJ Engages the Community in Eye-Opening Weekend Seminar on Rabbinic Courts


In a special program hosted by the Mazkeret Batya Municipal Department of Torah and Culture this past Shabbat, CWJ attorney Nitzan Caspi-Shiloni enlightened and challenged audiences of almost 300 on the topic of the Israeli Rabbinic Courts. With its focus on nurturing Jewish diversity, this growing community of more than 12,000 was the perfect setting for an engaging, eye-opening weekend of exploring the ramifications of rabbinate authority in matters such as marriage and divorce. Nitzan drew on CWJ's unique expertise in both civil and rabbinic courts to provide provocative insights into the complex workings of Israel's two-track legal system.

Nitzan’s series of three presentations began with a lecture during Friday night services at the Ashira Partnership Minyan. Nitzan drew from the Torah portion of Mishpatim (Laws) to compare the plight of the Hebrew slave to that of the agunah.

Later in the evening, she participated in a heated panel discussion in the Yishai Synagogue on ‘How the Rabbinical Courts are Facing up to the Challenges of Present Day Living.’ Her co-panelists included a prominent conversion court judge who is also credentialed as an attorney, the Deacon of Bar Ilan Law School, and a popular journalist for Makor Rishon, a conservative-leaning religious newspaper. Using examples from CWJ cases, Nitzan outlined the failings of the present system showing how rabbinic courts proactively hunt down mamzers, look for reasons to revoke conversions or cast doubts on relationships to create a case for adultery. She also challenged the approach of the other speakers, who see the expansion of grounds for divorce as a solution to releasing chained women, by pointing to cases of jailed recalcitrant husbands who persist even after grounds have been established. Finally, Nitzan advocated for civil marriage, explaining how the absence of the civil union option not only compromises human rights, but also ironically encourages the proliferation of religious transgression.

Nitzan’s third lecture took place Shabbat morning in the mainstream modern Orthodox Bar Lev Congregation where she introduced CWJ’s trailblazing post-nuptial agreement.  This agreement is aimed at preventing aginut in instances where the husband is unable to give the get such as the tragic case of a comatose husbands. About 60 couples took copies of CWJ's new post-nup to learn more about it. 

Illustrative of the success of the weekend: a top lay leader in the Ashira Partnership Minyan approached Nitzan after the program. "Equality for women in the synagogue is important," he remarked. "But we need to extend that equality to women in the rest of Jewish life as well. How can our synagogue become more involved and partner with CWJ?" Recognizing that social change begins at the roots, the leaderalso invited Nitzan come back to conduct a special program with the community's youth.

We look forward to more fruitful, engaging community discussions, made possible through the generous support of the 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.