One of the biggest topics that has been on the Kolech agenda since its inception is the aguna issue – only now, demands for change are becoming more radical, calling for change at the root of the problem. ‘The religious court (Beit Din) is an anachronistic, all-male stunted institution that demands major reform,” argued Dr. Aviad Hacohen, director of Shaare Mishpat [lit, “Gates of Justice”] College. Women are not only prohibited from being judges; they are also forbidden from working as assistants, making it an entirely male institution. This contributes to the Beit Din’s inability and unwillingness to address the suffering of agunot.For some apposite remarks, see Rabbi Marc Angel's Rabbis: No More Alibis - Center for Women's Justice.
“Of the 3762 women who filed for divorce in one court last year, the judges determined that a get (writ of divorce) should be given in a mere 18 cases,” Hacohen said. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize how pathetically little that is.” In fact, it’s less than half a percent of all cases. In one case in which the couple was completely separated for five years while the husband demanded that the woman either get back together with him or pay him half a million dollars, the court ordered the woman to pay tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for the get – and threatened her that if she refused, they would invalidate her get. “The court is like a washing machine that is permanently set at wringing and drying out women,” Hacohen quipped.
In another case, in which a woman was waiting 18 years for a get and child support payments, the court said that “the man has the right to protect himself as well”, and therefore should not be considered a recalcitrant husband. “The wife is chaining herself,” the court wrote in their decision, which outraged Hacohen. “I guess the court believes that behind every successful recalcitrant husband is a woman who is chaining herself,” he mused. Hacohen believes that Israel desperately needs an independent court system, one that allows women to be on staff. “Everyone talks about peace, but we need to be talking about justice,” he said.
The article makes a few other good remarks as well, such as
The rabbinic ordination of women – smicha – is one of the simplest items on the religious agenda today, according to Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun of Herzog College. Speaking at the Sixth Annual conference of the Kolech Orthodox Feminist institution in Jerusalem this week, Bin Nun argued that there is no problem whatsoever with women getting smicha, and that in fact, quite a few women have served as rabbis in Jewish history. Bin Nun brought examples from Talmudic times through Hassidic life of women who were rabbis in terms of both scholarship and communal leadership, and maintained that there has never been a problem with women’s ordination in halakha or in practice.Indeed, based on the shu"tim of Rabbis Sperber, bin Nun, and Maroof, there is no difficulty for women to be rabbis; Tosafot already solved the issue, and Hida and Sefer haHinuch followed Tosafot. Moreover, Rabbi Benzion Uziel said that women can be dayanin, so of course they can be pulpit rabbis!
“The Orthodox community faces some serious halakhic challenges today, such as how to free agunot (chained wives) or how to fix the conversion crisis in the religious courts, in which religious judges are absurdly granting themselves the right to annul conversions,” Ben Nun argued. “These are complex issues that demand a lot of attention and study. But women rabbis? That’s not a complex issue. That’s easy. Of course they can and should be rabbis. There is no issue”
Although the majority of the 2,000+ audience was women, quite a few of the panelists were men, including rabbis who were not afraid to make statements that might be considered radical in Orthodoxy. “The feminist movement can free men from practices in the religion that are not right,” said Rabbi Yehuda Gilad of Maale Gilboa. He said he wanted to be careful in his language but, “they call us Reform anyway, when I haven’t said anything, so I have nothing to lose,” he laughed, referring to the pronouncements by certain ultra-Orthodox rabbis last week that Kolech, Bnai Akiva and other modern Orthodox institutions are “Neo-Reform”. In the spirit of bucking his critics, Gilad courageously argued that much of what the religious community practices as sacred is no longer relevant – and women’s freedom from centuries of stunted tradition can now give men permission to let go of that which is antiquated. “Women are told that they don’t have to keep certain customs because they are not so important,” he said. “So men should take heed and let go of practices that are just wrong.”Indeed, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, in making this accusation that Modern Orthodoxy is akin to Reform, demonstrates that he has no knowledge of German-Jewish history; see http://michaelmakovi.blogspot.com/2009/07/hardal-rabbi-criticizes-non-haredi.html