Cracking the Orthodox Rabbinate’s Control

7 December 2015

In a victory for religious freedom and women’s rights, a woman who married outside the chief rabbinate has succeeded – thanks to the help of NIF grantee Mavoi Satum – in getting a divorce through a private Orthodox court. Nathalie Lastreger, 48, was divorced in the state rabbinical court when her first marriage ended, and her experience was traumatic. When she married for the second time, 11 years ago, she did so with a Conservative rabbi and insisted that if worst came to worst, she would only be divorced with the Conservative movement.

Sadly, her second marriage also ended in divorce. Her husband wanted to proceed with the Orthodox state rabbinical court. She refused to attend the hearings, was issued a ban on leaving the country. And then, in July, with an arrest warrant for refusing a divorce, she held her ground and said that she intended to appeal to the High Court of Justice. Wary of a court ruling on the matter, the Jerusalem rabbinical court withdrew the arrest warrant and allowed Lastreger to divorce in a private Orthodox rabbinical court, whose divorces are recognized by the state. The divorce was completed two weeks ago.

Lastreger, who works as a communal leader in the Conservative movement, said: “This wasn’t a war against Judaism or against the rabbis. This was a battle against the monopoly of the state courts, a monopoly which they abuse and in doing so harm women, the rights of women and do injury to the equal status of women.”

Attorney Batya Kehana-Dror, Lastreger’s legal representative and director of Mavoi Satum, said that the case would set an important precedent for the future. “Our intention is to break the rabbinate’s monopoly. We’re talking about an institution that is unreliable, since it is a monopoly and its main activity is to preserve its own power instead of finding ways to solve serious problems for women.” She said that her goal is to establish new, independent rabbinical courts that can carry out divorces, and to petition the High Court of Justice if these divorces are challenged.

Photo credit: Marc Treble – via Flickr (source)