Rabbis Cry Gewalt After Watching Israeli Film 'Gett'

Rabbinic courts aren't that bad, legal adviser says, but stresses: judges must know how they're perceived by the public.

Amit Berlowitz

The 2014 movie “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” which portrays a woman who has been fighting for three years to get a divorce, “does not reflect in any way what happens in the courtrooms,” the legal adviser to the rabbinic courts said this week, after the film was screened at an annual conference of rabbinic judges, known in Hebrew as dayanim.

The legal adviser, Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, was the one who initiated Tuesday’s screening, saying he thinks it’s important for dayanim to be aware of how they are perceived by the public.

“The importance of the screening is that we were exposed to how people see us, at least all those who saw the film, and that has to worry us. That’s not us,” he said. “And if there’s any soul-searching needed here, it’s that perhaps we aren’t doing enough to make the public aware of the solutions we offer women.”

However, he said he might not have recommended showing the Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz movie had he seen it first himself.

Nearly all dayanim are attending the convention, which began Monday and closes today, and most of them watched the film.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau attended the screening, while Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who only attended part of the conference, was not present.

Dayanim who watched the film said the reality is nothing as described. No dayan, they said, would ask women insulting questions about their private lives, nor would any dayan say, “Know your place, woman,” and order her forcibly from the courtroom by male security guards.

“It’s a distorted presentation of what goes on in the courtrooms,” said one rabbinic court judge. “There are color films and there are black-and-white films, but this movie has only one color: black. Reality is not the way it’s described in the film.”

That may or may not be the case, but it misses the underlying point: that the rabbinical courts will not approve a divorce unless the man agrees to it, leaving some women in limbo in a country that does not have civil marriage or divorce. Although it is not clear how many women are affected by this problem, a 2013 survey by the Geocartography research institute for Bar-Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women found that one in three women in the process of getting a divorce in Israel is subject to financial or other extortion by her husband.

The dayanim are scheduled to meet today to discuss “Gett” and a TV documentary on rabbinic courts that was also screened.