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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS' JULY 5, 2013 ing Israel's case in the Instagram age By Elaine Durbach [ New Jersey Jewish News David Baker doesn't ex- actly agree that he has the toughest job in Israel, but he doesn't deny it either. As the media front man for the Prime Minister's Office, that kind of ducking and weaving comes with the territory, but Baker--a New Yorker by birth and rearing--can take it. "I'm from the boroughs-- I'm a cool New Yorker," he said, half-kidding, on a re- cent phone interview from Jerusalem, a few days before heading to the United States for one of his frequent visits. Baker, the senior foreign press coordinator for the prime minister, spoke about Israel and the media at Con- gregation Agudath Israel on June 21. Baker said--carefully By Jonathan Mark New York Jewish week Saying he can "take a punch," David Baker said he is always ready for a frank exchange. phrasing' it--that he hopes that Jews and non-Jews would come to hear him. "I'm very grateful to have this opportunity to dialogue Some agunot, observant Jewish women trapped in unwanted marriages, wait many years for a Jewish divorce. Meanwhile, a num- ber of activists after hav- ing devoted decades to the cause, have begun to wonder whether a solution to the agunah crisis is possible. Rivka Haut, for one, who 30 years ago helped found Agunah Inc., admitted that when Blu Greenberg--a .magical name ,in Ortho- dox feminism since the 1960s telephoned recently, suggesting an international agunah summit, "I was not so eager to come... Blu knows that. I said to her, 'Why? We've had so many conferences. I organized some. What will be differ- ent?'" For a good part of the summit June 24, said Haut, "I felt, why am I here?" By late afternoon, though, she said she had become more hopeful. There was discus- sion of creating a new bet din (rabbinic court), albeit only in the talking stage, that could start freeing agunot via Talmudic annulment prerogatives, dusty from lack of use, but a bet din's prerogative nevertheless. The Agunah Summit brought together leaders from the West Side and the West Bank; rabbis and rebels; politicians such as Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinisch; pro-bono lawyers and celebrity lawyers such as Alan Dershowitz. and New York University Law School's Joseph Weiler. one of the co-chairs of the summit and director of the NYU Tikvah Center for Law and Jewish Civilization, a co-sponsor of the summit along with JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox FeministAlliance. Although the summit. which attracted more than 100 people, was conceived as a gathering to find systemic Orthodox solutions to the age-old problem of freeing women from recalcitrant husbands, some participants were perplexed by the promi- with them," he said. While he might be hoping for a friendly audience, he insisted he was ready for a frank exchange. "You can tell, I can take a punch," he said. BakeF, who made aliyah in 1985, has held his current position since 2000, serving with Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and now Benjamin Netanyahu. It's his task to present official policies to the internati.onal media. and introduce governmen t spokespeople to the press. "I have a good product;" he said. But unlike the market- ing people who assert that any publicity is good publicity, he wouldn't mind having his "product" not quite so much in the international eye. "They know Israel exists," he said. And while there are plenty of tough issues to deal with, and plenty of negative press, there are good times, too. "You take your lumps, and that's fine," Baker said. "It'sa high-intens!ty job and I enjoy it." Coming from a media background--he worked for a few years in the Eyewitness newsroom in Buffalo, N.Y., and for various English- language publications in Israel--he is confident about his ability to get through to them. He cited a recent instance when a major news organiza- tion used "certain terminol- ogy" that he felt misrepre- sented Israel's situation. He protested "in a gentlemanly way," and though the journal- ist in question didn't agree, he made the change. "He said it was out of respect for the way I had handled the mat- ter," Baker recalled. "If you're fair and you treat other people with respect...," not always but most of the time, "you get treated with respect." As things stand at the moment inthe States, Baker said, "There is a high level of understanding and sup- port in the American public regarding Israel's security needs and the challenges we face. The American media can be quite scrutinizing of Israel, especially in its edito- rial pages and its op-eds, but overall we do get our points across, and while it may be a pitched battle sometimes, we accept that and we are up to the challenge." As for dealing with college students, whom he also often speaks to, and dealing with new forms of media, he said, "Students are more informed Mideast-wise and know the issues better than in previous Agunah Summit revisits plan to create liberal religious courts nent participation of Livni, Beinisch and Dershowitz, none of whom claim to be Orthodox or well-versed in the agunah field. But Der- showitz did contribute a legal tactic, suggesting that it be considered an "ethical violation" for any lawyer to advise a client to refuse to give a get [Jew!sh divorce], upon penalty of disbarment. There were several calls for the agunah problem to be seQn not as an Orthodox issue (the Conservative and Reform movements amend- ed their divorce laws years :ago) but as a "human rights issue," though Greenberg and Weiler didn't quite agree. on how this would manifest itself. Greenberg preferred an internal approach, "not to run to the United Nations but to take the human rights issue within Judaism." For Greenberg, human rights means "it is not just the agunah [who is affected] but ... it's a violation of every single woman who is faithful to the tradition." Weiler. however, was will- ing to take an external route, through The New York Times, he said, and into the court of public opinion, wherever that might lead. The law professor, who is also editor-in-chief of the European Journal of Inter- national Law, asked, 'Who is the greater mikhalel Hashem (desecrator of God's name)? The one who goes to the international community, to the national community, to The New York Times. and exposes this disgrace, or the one who allows this disgrace to take place?" He added, "We cannot delegate such an important matter to ecclesiastical authorities who will then. in turn, delegate it to the husband who will then, in turn, bring about this violation of human rights. And it's not just the iggun [the unresolved limbo of a woman denied divorce] that is the violation. It is the very inequality of the bargain- ing position. It is the very inequality in the marriage itself." an inequality born of the possibility of a distorted divorce; "that constitutes the assault on dignity, and that constitutes a violation of human rights." What Weiler and Green- berg did share was a complete fidelity to halacha as the ideal and basis of a systemic change that, rather than as- sist agunot on a case-by-case basis, would eliminate the problem altogether. Rabbi David Bigman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Ma'ale Gilboa - HaKibbutz HaDati, in Israel's Galilee, said, "There can be n im- mediate solutionwhich is not comprehensive or a compre- hensive solution which is not immediate." However, "what can we do tomorrow morn- ing that would be significant, would be... the Rackman Court revisited." He was referring to the late Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, among the leading Modern Orthodox leaders of. his generation, and one of the founders of The Jewish Week, who in the 1990s took it upon himself to establish a bet din that liberally freed agunot by issuing annulments, accord- ing to Talmudic guidelines. If the marriage is annulled, as if it never happened, it cir- cumvents the need for a get. But the Rackman court was considered a rogue bet din. its rulings not accepted even within the Modern Orthodox community, and the project died a lonely end. Rabbi Bigman suggested that a new "Rackman" imitative, with transparent procedures published and examined by scholars, could startwith"the more obvious cases," and thereby "test the waters." He predicted "an immedi- ate ripple effect, because the moment the husband knows that there is an option of" annulment, "it will lessen his power" to threaten the refusal of a get, not needed if the marriage is annulled. "It won't be comprehensive, but it will be almost immediate." Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the new head of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, an "open Orthodox" rabbinical school, was on board with Rabbi Bigman. "This needs to be a super-charged Rackman model. There needs to be a list of [rabbis]--and I'll offer my services--who will follow this bet din and say that we will perform marriages for former agunot," released through such a court. If only 15 percent of the Orthodoxworld accepted the new bet din, as was suggested, well, thatwas 15 percent more freed agunot than would have been otherwise. But one observer in attendance emailed after the summit, "How many of the offspring will be rejected when they apply to yeshivot because 85 percent believe they are [illegitimate]? ... We need a halachic solution that will be accepted by significantly more than 15 percent." Weiler said at the summit, "The unity of the Jewish people is tremendously im- portant. But if we say that unity means that we have to get the assent of every section of the Jewish people, there will never be progress on anything." Rabbi Lopatin agreed, saying this bet din won't be universally accepted. but "we have to do what is right," and gradually if the problem is being solved, "more and more will come over to our side .... When we have a fair system that works halachically then that willbe the new standard." Weiler wanted the problem of the agunah "treated like Soviet Jewry, like the Jews of Ethiopia," with commu- nitywide mobilization. But what was the true extent of the problem? For all the summit's quest for academic and legal precision, there was more elasticity than preci- sion when it came to data about agunot. No one said how many American agunot there were. According to a survey by The Meliman Group, and used by The New York Times, between 2005- 10 there were 462 cases of agunot in the United States. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan Uni- versity, said there were some 200 cases in Israel each year, based on rabbinical court statistics, but she spoke on a broader group of "tensof PAGE 15A years. They are more eager to challenge me when I am up on that stage and I welcome that and enjoy a good tussle. It helps me make Israel's case." New media formats have given pro-Israel activists the tools to extend their reach in a most expedient way and are open to using the tools the Prime Minister's Office provides: Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, and, Baker said, "our web- site is quite popular--pmo." "On the other hand," he said, "Israel's detractors on campus also use these tools, from other sources that are hostile to Israel, and that makes our job more challenging." Elaine Durbach is a staff writer for the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission. thousands" of women who may feel threatened or in- timidated by the idea that someday they may have to make concessions in a divorce proceeding to obtain a get. She said the state has the duty "to respect, protect and fulfill human rights," including the responsibility to protect women from get refusal and extortions. Greenberg, reflecting on the day, said the summit made progress, and that "the creation of [religious courts]" that will deal with agunot is"an important step forward." She said the idea was to have the summit be a halach- ic, academic discussion, but to include the community. "Not only because it affects everyone in the community but because community has amazing power, and unfor- tunately the community, by and large, has been a bystander through all this." Jonathan Mark is an asso- ciate editor at The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. LO00DA r Call us Today Caring for you in your home or facility part.time or 24 hours7 days a week. We always provide a C.NJ4. 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