International Beit Din, Support for Agunot, New York
The International Beit Din is a new religious court focused on eliminating injustice and discrimination in Jewish divorce. This innovative initiative is spearheaded by Orthodox rabbis in the U.S., with support from many Israeli haredi colleagues. The court, led by Rabbi Simcha Krauss, was formed in June 2014 and began officiating cases shortly thereafter. It is an independent institution with no organizational affiliations. According to Jewish law, a divorce is valid only when a get (divorce document) is voluntarily handed from husband to wife. When the husband refuses to grant his wife a get, he withholds her freedom to remarry; she is left chained to her husband as a mesurevet get. The International Beit Din is distinguished from other rabbinic divorce courts in certain critical ways. In addition to its mission to apply halakhic solutions to the problem of get refusal, the court considers itself a teaching beit din that holds conferences and other outreach activities and makes its work completely transparent. Additionally, it has established procedure to provide support throughout the process for the women seeking gets. Resolving the problem of Jewish divorce “will require a paradigm shift, and the International Beit Din, with its absolute fidelity to halakha and commitment to social justice, may be the appropriate institution to reach for this goal,” says Blu Greenberg, the founder of JOFA, who has played a significant role in the establishment of the court. The International Beit Din grew out of the Aguna Summit, held in June 2013 at NYU Law School and co-convened by Tikvah and JOFA. The purpose of the summit was to hold an open forum to explore the various systemic solutions to the problem of get abuse, acknowledging that despite forty years of activism, the problem has persisted. The decision to create a special beit din grew out of the summit. The court was established in the U.S. because the Chief Rabbinate would not permit the establishment of an independent beit din in Israel.
Bais Abraham Congregation, Shalhevet Women’s Kollel of St. Louis, MO
Shalhevet offers high-level, in-depth, text-based Jewish learning to Jewish women in St. Louis. Under the guidance of Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, Shalhevet allows women across the Jewish spectrum to access and directly engage with Talmudic texts, thus enabling women to join in the rabbinic discourse from which they had previously been barred. In the Orthodox Jewish community, women are not given the same education as men, nor are they provided with access to texts absent an intermediary. While education is an end in itself, there are also unfortunate reverberations in the Orthodox community of how that lack of access to education can lead to an abuse of rabbinic authority. Shalhevet Women’s Kollel of St. Louis launched in September of 2014 and has met every other week for an hour and a half. A cohort of approximately 25–30 women participate regularly. Sessions begin with 45 minutes of studying of Talmudic text in partnership, followed by a 45 minutes of shiur, led by Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, in which participants discuss the texts as well as broader questions of halakhic process, Jewish thought, and rabbinic authority. Of the women who participate in Shalhevet, many were not brought up with a strong Jewish education and the majority did not learn Talmud prior to joining the kollel. The women who participate have already indicated a change in how they approach Jewish learning and in how they understand Jewish life. For the first time, they are not only given the “answers” to Jewish questions, but they are able to see (and participate in) the conversations that took place thousands of years ago that predated those “answers.” In understanding the process by which halakha developed, and in joining the conversation with the rabbis, they no longer feel that they are passive participants in Jewish life. Bais Abraham is an inclusive Orthodox synagogue in St. Louis, MO, that aims to model to the Orthodox world a way of making its depth of Judaism available to all people.
Yeshivat Maharat, Keren Journal, Bronx, New York
Targum Shlishi awarded a grant in support of Yeshivat Maharat’s Keren Journal, volume II. This volume of Yeshivat Maharat’s journal explored the halachic and moral implications of the morning blessing “shelo asani isha” ("Blessed are you, Lord…who did not create me a woman.”). Yeshivat Maharat is the first institution to train Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halachic authorities. Located in the Bronx, the institution was founded in 2009 by Rabbi Avi Weiss, senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder and president of Yeshivah Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Yeshivat Maharat’s dean is Rabba Sara Hurwitz, who was ordained by Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Daniel Sperber. Although there are many institutions that provide a place for women to engage in serious Torah study, Yeshivat Maharat has taken an important further step. Through a rigorous curriculum of Talmud, halachic decision-making, pastoral counseling, and leadership development, the institution’s graduates will assume the responsibility and authority to be poskot (legal arbiters) for the community. This volume of Keren Journal is downloadable from the Yeshivat Maharat website.