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February 11, 2015 by

Get Thee to “Gett”

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Sib filmmakers Ronit and Shlomo Elkabetz in New York before opening of “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” Photo by Amy Stone.

Whether you’ve dedicated your life to the plight of the chained women (Hebrew “agunot”) whose husbands refuse to give them a Jewish religious divorce (“gett”), or you had no idea that a Jewish religious divorce is the ONLY legal divorce for Jewish couples in Israel, get thee to the Israeli feature film “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” In Hebrew, French and Arabic with English subtitles, it opens Feb. 13 in New York City and Los Angeles. 

Under Jewish religious law (not just in Israel), a husband can simply refuse to give his wife a divorce. In this remarkable film, we see in detail the final two years of excruciating legal procedures that have already dragged on for three years in an Israeli “beit din,” court of judgment. 

Viviane Amsalem, the wife trapped in a dead marriage, is simply a non-person. She is beautiful. She is emotionally controlled. She is not religious, but dresses modestly (except for great sandals exposing her toes). How can she keep from cracking when she’s at the mercy of a husband who doesn’t even have to show up for court dates? When he does appear, all he has to do is say no. He doesn’t even bother to hire a lawyer.

“Gett” leaves almost no one in the claustrophobic courtroom unscathed – wife, lawyer, witnesses. In their tight community of Moroccan Jews, everyone knows everyone else’s business. When pushed to drag up dirt in the pursuit of justice, just about everyone does. Even the personal life of Viviane Amsalem’s lawyer goes on trial.

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Photo by Amy Stone

This is the final film in the trilogy from brother-sister team Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz. The first two films were loosely biographical features based on their mother, a Moroccan-born Jew who hoped for a freer life in Israel. Shlomi, 42, and Ronit, 50, co-wrote and co-directed “Gett.” Ronit, one of Israel’s well-known actors, stars as Viviane. 

Speaking at the film’s New York debut at last month’s New York Jewish Film Festival, Shlomi Elkabetz said the first two films were personal. The third is political. “Gett” has been playing to packed theaters since opening in Israel last fall. Israelis flocked to the film, Shlomi said, in part because they wanted to see what might lie in store for them behind the doors of the divorce court, closed to the public. In fact, the sibs Elkabetz gathered their information from stationing themselves outside the courtroom door, gaining entry only once.

Viviane Amsalem is truly on trial in an almost Alice-in-Wonderland travesty of justice. The three rabbis hold court from on high, looking down from their judicial bench emblazoned with the seal of Israel’s Ministry of Religion. Those coming before them are infantilized at smaller-scale desks and chairs that look like they were borrowed from a schoolroom. Justice seems devoid of dignity, let alone compassion. One judge, frustrated by this case that will not end, simply climbs down from the bench and walks out.

“Gett” has ignited such outrage against divorce Israeli style that the February national meeting of Israel’s rabbinical divorce lawyers is screening the film. And, according to Shlomi Elkabetz, the courts have finally yielded to pressure to reveal the number of Jewish women waiting for divorces for more than 18 months. The number is an astounding 45,000.

If “Gett” is firing up Israelis to see their country’s divorce law as a violation of human rights, it speaks well for the film industry. Recipient of the country’s top cinematic awards, “Gett” was Israel’s (unsuccessful) Academy Award entry for this year’s best foreign language film.

In fact, “Gett” may be the emotionally powerful catalyst that will build national support for giving women a voice under divorce law, efforts that have been under way for decades.

During the Q&A following the festival screening, someone asked if divorce in Israel was a moneymaking industry the way it is in the U.S. Of course it is. The industry is extortion – husbands refusing to give their wives a divorce without receiving hefty sums of money.


For theatrical screenings see http://www.musicboxfilms.com/

For trailer see https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-ts=1421782837&x-yt-cl=84359240&v=9a4dJZtCl1Q.

For more on Jewish divorce, getts, and ideas for change, see Lilith’s article, “Man’s Absolute Right is Absolutely Wrong.”

Make sure to watch for ongoing coverage in Lilith Magazine and here on the Lilith blog.

Meanwhile, Agunot and Jewish Divorce on the website of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) http://www.jofa.org/Advocacy/Agunot_Overview/


  • Iris

    Put me on the waiting list for a gett. I have not been able to financially afford it . I have a civil divorce since 1981. I’m spiritually and religiously Jewish. My soul needs the release of a gett. My ex converted from Judaism to Christianity when he remarried soon after our divorce. I have not remarried. There’s no question that he would contest the gett, I don’t believe he even knows what it is. When I first inquired about a get I was told I would have to pay transportation for three Rabbis from Los Angeles plus hundreds of dollars in fees for the divorce. It was beyond my ability. I was a struggling single parent .Now all these years later I’m a struggling senior citizen still in need of spiritual release. I am a Certified Reiki Master Teacher which entitles me to a ministry status. I’m very tempted to perform the gett myself. All I need is an English translation (I cannot read Hebrew). I am sincerely desperate to finally finalized the severance of my marriage.
    Baruch Hashem