October 31, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 35  

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Women's rights in Israel, legal issues and falafel

By Karla Courtney
Gazette Staff

An internationally renowned women's rights specialist and lawyer stopped by Western's Law Building yesterday to speak about women's rights, legal problems in Israel and falafel.

Sharon Finkel-Shenhav tied humour into her discussion by bringing attention to unfair reasoning which has caused women in Israel to be marginalized. She pointed out an old and now over-ridden court ruling that "a woman cannot be a pilot because every month a biological occurrence happens and she becomes unstable."

She addressed many of the high points of Israeli women's rights legislation, including very accommodating maternity leave provisions for both the mother and the father.

The centre of her talk addressed the problem of religious divorce laws and their negative implications for women. The two-step nature of a Jewish divorce, she explained, involves first filing a civil divorce, which provides for all marital property to be split equally between the two parties. The second step, she continued, is a religious divorce requiring the husband's consent for finalization.

According to Finkel-Shenhav, without the husband's consent a woman is unable to remarry and any children she has with another man are given a title resembling bastard, preventing them from marrying other Jewish people.

The big problem, she explained, is men often turn the religious divorce into a negotiating tool for more than their fair share as designated by the civil court, or they simply refuse to give consent at all.

"Who even calls that a negotiation - I call it blackmail. Equality should occur at the time of, during, and after a marriage," Finkel-Shenhav said.

One of her comical solutions involved "setting up a platform in Jerusalem with falafel and popcorn," with reference to the orthodox practice of a Rabbi whipping men into consent, but when getting back down to business she identified the most tangible solution as involving women in the religious legislative process.

"Only orthodox men have been interpreting Jewish law for the past 4,000 years," Finkel-Shenhav said. "If women can be lawyers, judges or doctors, they can also interpret religious law - not just in Judaism, but also in Islam and Christianity. What we are only asking for is justice and fairness," she said.

"I found her very objective," Jane Hnik, a student who was present for the lecture said, adding she was a bit surprised Finkel-Shenhav did not mention anything else regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.



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