If you happen to pass by a kindergarten or school at midday or amble through a public park or community center in the afternoon, you might notice who frequents these places: You'll get an eyeful of mothers.
They race breathlessly to leave work before four to pick up their children on time; they unstrap the children from their car seats, flick open the baby carriage, get the older sibling into an afternoon class or club, rush the middle child to the doctor and come evening, at parent-teacher meetings, there they are again, in full attendance. And what about the fathers? They're at sea, on land or in the air, anywhere but home. They're on shift at hospital, they're abroad; they'll be home any moment. But the hour grows late. From time to time they'll show up, appreciated guests: They'll quickly hug the child whom they've missed so much and then sit down to catch the news on TV.
I am doubtless wronging many devoted fathers who hover like hens over their chicks. But I'm sorry to say that you disappear in the mob. You are a rare breed. I wish there were more like you in Israel.
The reality in which Israel's mothers bear the burden of child care almost exclusively makes the anticipated recommendation of the Schnitt Committee - to abolish the law automatically awarding custody of minors younger than six to the mother in the event of divorce - an outrage.
The desire to revolutionize custody arrangements and amend a law that's been around for 45 years stems from the charm of the fashionable gender equality in general, and between parents in particular. It's a fashion with a whiff of progress and enlightenment, support for change - and capitulation to esoteric men's rights groups.
Proponents of abolishing the article in law argue that the classic family model, in which the father earns the living and the mother stays home, is an anachronism. Therefore, in a divorce, custody should be shared by both parents.
However, the traditional model still reigns, certainly in Israel. During the last 50 years, the proportion of women participating in the workforce has been rising. But in 2005 that proportion among Jewish women was still just 56 percent, compared with 70 percent among men. The proportion of women with part-time jobs is double that of men.
The prevailing assumption today, that women bear exclusive responsibility for child care, is a patriarchal myth that must be changed. It shows that a legal rhetoric creating a dialog detached from reality has triumphed. When discussion about the uniqueness of the mother-child relationship disappeared in favor of discussion about parenting, no wonder some want to abolish the legal advantage that mothers deserve by merit.
The blame cannot be foisted on women. Men are the ones who avoid the chores of parenting, preferring to work. That is why more than 90 percent of custody cases end in the mother's favor by consent, even when the children are more than six years old. Women, who have no choice but to juggle their professional and personal life with child care, would certainly prefer their lot to be easier. But, at the same time, they don't view themselves as victims, because motherhood is an inseparable part of their personae. The claim that they distance the fathers from the children is specious: Most women are frustrated by the brazen evasion of child care by their spouses.
Many men discover fatherhood only after divorcing. It is a welcome change. But in the margins there's also a movement forming of men who view children as a possession to be equally shared. For years they refused to take the child to the park and couldn't care less about homework: but once divorce is in the air, they brandish the flag of equal parenting and then press custody claims to stress the mothers over alimony, child support and assets. Taking automatic custody away from mothers of infants will broaden the possibilities for men to work on women through extortion in custody battles. Experience in other countries teaches that women pay a heavy economic price to buy the father's consent to waive custody.
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