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More than a decade ago, Israel's leading female directors wrote and
directed three short films about women called Tel Aviv Stories (1993).
In the third tale, Tiki, a female traffic cop, catches sight of her
runaway husband and begins to pursue him in an effort to force him to
grant her a divorce. Without this formal divorce, she is an agunah,
unable to remarry, and, as a moral and religious person, unwilling to
violate the sanctity of this enforced state of marriage by having
affairs. While ostensibly a comedy, Tiki's story is a sad one, although
her refusal at the end of the film to accept the rabbinical compromise
that would free her is a triumph. She will make her own decisions
rather than live while the law persists, even if loopholes would allow
her to escape its strictures. For the women in Sentenced to Marriage,
12 years after their plight was the subject of one of the biggest box
office smashes in Israel, there is no triumph, real or symbolic. The
documentary effectively portrays the limbo in which such women continue
to find themselves.
The English translation of the Biblical quote that gives the film its title is supplied by the filmmaker, the interpretation a deliberate statement. The three young women in the documentary, rich and poor, observant and secular, are serving an endless sentence, while their husbands remain at large, even marrying with the approval of rabbis and siring children. In a remarkable display of fairness, the film lays the blame on the individual members of the rabbinic courts and on the elusive and vindictive husbands, rather than simply on the system that allows husbands to keep their abandoned wives imprisoned in their marriage vows. Where viewers inclined to find fault with the non-secular aspects of the modern State of Israel will focus on the religious laws that allow such gender inequalities, the more discerning audience will notice that Anat Zuria, the filmmaker, finds much to admire in the rabbinical advocates. This is a group of Orthodox women (some clearly American), who fight to obtain divorces on behalf of these wives and who engage in midnight raids and other derring-do in their attempts to locate and confront the husbands. Zuria also makes clear that the Law could declare the new offspring of these wayward husbands "bastards" and use various other devices to force their consent, but the corrupt, individual members of the rabbinical courts simply refuse to do so. The ultimate judgment of the filmmaker seems to be that in this battle of the genders, men will use anything at their disposal to gain their end. And because Rabbinical Courts consist of men, their inclination is to support other men in this war of the sexes. It is the great irony of modern Israel that the secular State remains in thrall to religious laws in "nothing" except birth, marriage, and death.
This movies follows Jewish women in their pursuit of divorce... something which seems virtually impossible in the non-secular state of Israel. The film itself gives a good picture of the gender inequalities that are manifested in the power abuse in the name of religion. Without claiming to be an expert in the Bible or the Torah, one can easily notice the massive abuse of power in the name of a higher teaching. Women having to buy their way out of marriages, women being left to raise many children by themselves, and women getting restrictions on who they can and cannot see or meet. It is all dictated by a fascist Rabbi-court, which is portrayed as a mandatory ruling institution for all Jews. One has to ask the question: What about the non-Jews of Israel? Which court decides those faiths? And what about juridical equality? The movie itself is a fairly well paced composition. Nothing out of the ordinary. The 65 minute film makes you wish for nothing more, nothing less. As a documentary it is good. It is about the message and not about production splendor. I thank Anat Zuria for giving me this valuable perspective, and it gives me all the more reason, as a man, to fight gender inequalities (and any other type of religious dogmatic behavior). Can't wait to get a hold of "Purity".
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