US-born, Jerusalem-based lawyer Dr. Susan Weiss founded of the Center for Women’s Justice in 2004 to lead the legal battle for equality, dignity and justice for women under Jewish law in Israel.
Among other issues, the center is currently involved in a high-profile case involving the Israeli chief rabbinate’s revocation of Jewish status from a three-generational Israeli family with roots in the Former Soviet Union.
The brief: When the matriarch came to Israel over 30 years ago, like all immigrants, her Jewish status was checked and confirmed. Likewise, during her own and her two daughters’ subsequent marriages.
But during one of the daughters’ divorce proceedings, her disgruntled husband alleged his wife is actually not Jewish. After a series of court hearings and opaque checks, the rabbinate has since declared the entire family not Jewish — including the children born in Israel to parents married by the rabbinate itself — and nullified all family members’ marriages.
So who you gonna call? The Center for Women’s Justice.
Teaming up with an organization called DOR 1.5 that is made up of young Russian-speaking Israelis, Weiss’s center has recently petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice over what she labels the rabbinate’s over-reach.
The Times of Israel asked the rabbinical courts for a comment on this case. It said that “in the past several years, hundreds of cases have been submitted to the High Court of Justice against the rabbinical courts, and among them, only between 0-2 have been accepted and the rest have been rejected.”
The center is aware of its somewhat slim odds but continues to petition its cases in the hopes of overturning what it considers an unjust system born of the “outsourcing” of the State of Israel’s religion into the hands of a few male rabbis with the power and legitimized authority of the country behind them, which has resulted in a “partial theocracy.”
Weiss calls for the “privatization of religion” in Israel — basically, a free market of religious pluralism in which rabbis would compete for clients and thus have an incentive to change, and potentially become more compassionate. “Judaism is being constructed all the time,” she said.
“It’s good for the religion that the state not be in the business of religion,” said Weiss.
Why is CWJ back at the Supreme Court? To right the injustice done not only to one woman and her family, but to anyone…
Take a listen to this week’s podcast to hear more about the Center for Women’s Justice’s work in slowly changing Israel’s relationship to religion and state — from what happens in the synagogue, to what happens in your bedrooms. Spoiler: Weiss is still optimistic.