Ronit Elkabetz in Gett: The Trial
of Viviane Amsalem
Yesterday I heard on the radio an interview with Israeli film directors Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz as they discussed their film, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. The story is that of an Israeli woman, Viviane Amsalem, who wants a Gett—a rabbinical bill of divorce—from her husband Elisha. Under Orthodox Jewish Law such a decree of divorce can only be issued if the husband ok’s it and Elisha won’t give Viviane her freedom from their loveless marriage. What is even worse is that under this Orthodox Jewish system, the woman—Viviane—while practically speaking is the plaintiff seeking the divorce, actually becomes the one on trial in the procedure since the system is predicated on the exclusive right of the man to divorce the wife. In Israel, despite it’s alleged separation of state and religion and despite the fact that the vast majority of its citizens, while Jews, are secularists, there is no provision for a divorce except that granted by a rabbinical court in accordance with strict Orthodox Jewish procedures. Thus Viviane has no recourse. The directors, who are brother and sister to one another, claim that there are currently about 45,000 Jewish women trapped in this situation where their husbands will not grant them their freedom. (While Israeli law has no provisions for secular divorce, Christians and Muslims can get their divorces from ecclesiastical (Christian) or Sharia (Islamic) tribunals as Jews get them from rabbinical courts.
I am not a moviegoer. I probably will not see Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. I also did not see Abderrahmane Sissako’s film, Timbuktu. Timbuktu tells the story of the people of this ancient city in Mali during its occupation by the radical Islamic group, Ansar Dine, during the 2012 civil war in Mali. Ansar Dine imposed sharia law on the city demanding that women be veiled, stoning adulterers, amputating limbs for various crimes, outlawing sports and recreation activities, and imposing other harsh measures on the local population in the name of religion.
Religion too often is about power and in both the Christian (and post-Christian) West and in the Islamic Mid-East and now in Jewish Israel, religious power has become entangled with civil law. The Civil Law gives power to religious principles and value. More and more in a post-Christian society such as our own this residual of religious power over people causes a deep resentment.
Toothpaste does not go easily back into tubes. It is unlikely that Christianity will again be the foundation for Western Society. We need to make peace with that. Jesus never said that we were to have that kind of power over “the world.” It is somewhat hard to take off one’s crown, climb down from one’s throne, and drive a taxi to support one’s self, but that is more or less what we, as Church, are called to do. And while it may not be as much fun as were the grand days of the Ancien Regime, it is not a bad strategy for the future. Nothing will regain credibility for the Church like putting ourselves at the service of all in need. For all his charismatic personality, Mother Theresa had much more influence over people outside the Church than did Pope John Paul, or even John XXIII in his day. And the mission that Jesus gave us was never to change laws—even laws to protect the unborn or to insure the moral character of marriage—but to change hearts. The world will not be bettered by changed laws that impose values on people without their assent, but change hearts and you will change everything.