Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A powerful and disturbing movie

The screening of Mekudeshet by Young Hadassah-Israel last night attracted a decent crowd despite the inclement weather.

Marriage and divorce amongst Jews in Israel is controlled by the religious courts which tend to be difficult to deal with to say the very least. Where I have encountered them in other areas, their view of how they run things tends to be very different to reality and therefore it came as no surprise to me that they were portrayed in a most unflattering light.

In order to be divorced under Jewish law, a man has to willingly give his wife a Get (religious divorce). For as long as he has not done so, she is in limbo, unable to start up new relationships or to remarry. Any children born to her by another man whilst still married, will be considered under religious law to be 'Mamzerim' - loosely translated as 'bastards' but with long reaching ramifications as to who the children can marry for 10 generations down the line. The same restrictions do not apply to a man.

The result of these restrictions is that it is sometimes the case that a man will condition giving a get on his wife paying him a sum of money - effectively blackmailing her. I am quite certain that many women give in to this extortion in order to free themselves but it's not always possible for them to do so. More to the point, the principle that that the relgious system allows that they can be put into such a position is something that leaves me feeling extremely uncomfortable.

Mekudeshet follows 3 Agunot in their struggles to obtain a Get through the Rabbinical courts. Accompanied by female advocates from Yad L'Isha, an organisation specialising in assisting women to receive a Get, they navigate the absurd maze trying to find a way out whilst the gateposts are constantly being moved.

It is an important and powerful piece of film, illustrating how the men involved are able to cynically manipulate the system to their advantage. The women are helpless, their cases being dragged on for years whilst the Rabbinical judges, almost seem to side with the men, of whom some portrayed have in the mean time set up other families.

The Question and Answer session that followed the screening was most interesting for the presence of one of the Agunot in question. Part of the beauty of Hadassah's involvement in social action projects was the fact that she had been given a scholarship to Hadassah college in Jerusalem and is currently studying in the printing faculty. The money raised from the screening will help her to continue her studies. She was most dignified in the way she related to the audience, answering questions on a subject that is distinctly private in its nature.

I challenge any religious person to watch this film and not to feel uncomfortable as a result. That such a problem can exist within our religion in the 21st century is simply horrific. Before getting married my wife and I looked at the idea of signing a pre-nuptial agreement which protects a person against becoming an Aguna - it's a tremendously uncomfortable thing to have to do but I understand that more and more Rabbis are insisting on a pre-nup of this kind be signed before they'll marry a couple. On the evidence of Mekudeshet, I think it a sensible precaution.


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