I must admit that I felt like a little country girl who had been sent on a trip to the big city when I sat in on a hearing a few days ago in the Haifa Family Court. The hearing involved the petition of the woman who had asked the court to decide her claims against her husband for custody of their children, the division of marital property, as well as damages for his refusal to give her a get. I really don't want to start comparing the two courts. It's too upsetting. Even for me. So instead, I'm only going to talk about what happened in the Family Court.
Here are the 10 things that impressed me:
- The hearing was conducted in an exemplary manner. The judge was in full command of the hearing that went on for three long hours. And there wasn't, even for one short minute, a situation in which "might made right". In other words: there was no occasion in which the person who shouted loudest, got the most. Nor at any point was an attorney able to filibuster the hearing and divert the discussion to inappropriate places. I was proud of this state institution in which meaning and order thrived.
- It was also very clear what the topic was, the framework of the hearing, and why the hearing was taking place. Everybody present knew without a doubt that the two witnesses that the wife had called would give testimony and be cross-examined on that very day. There were no surprises or disappointments. And anything that wasn't clear was clarified during the course of the hearing. The judge asked all the parties to state their claims, and made a decision on the spot (Just like on TV!). In fact, at the very beginning of the hearing, the judge set down dates for future hearings and decided exactly what issues would be raised at those hearings. Even though the dates were far away, one could anticipate, even at this juncture, when the hearing on all the matters at hand would in fact be completed.
- It was clear that the judge had read the file and knew what it was all about. This was really impressive! At one point, the judge even called one of the attorneys to task for trying to "explain" things to her, as if she wasn't following what was happening. And if by chance the judge misunderstood something, the woman’s attorney clarified the matter, so that there would be no mistakes.
- Not only did everyone respect the judge. She herself spoke with respect to all the parties.
- The judge showed respect to her parallel court—the rabbinic court. And she was shocked, for example, when the wife stated that “you can make a kite out of the decision of the rabbinic court.” She couldn’t believe her ears. (The court reporter also missed this. The wife must have spoken quietly.) And when the wife admitted that that she had in fact made that comment, the judge ordered it stricken from the record.
- The parties restrained themselves, as much as they could, from any direct confrontation. They didn't yell at each other or threaten one another. And the wife didn't burst out in tears. Everyone knew that the judge understood, in her great wisdom, that the parties who had lived apart for three years, and had filed reciprocal complaints to the police, were living in the eye of a difficult storm. No one saw any reason to put their hate for one another on display for the judge.
- I did not feel as if I was in the market. No one pounded on any tables. No nervous people congregated outside of the courtroom doors, waiting for their hearing that had been delayed by two or three hours. And that's for the simple reason that there were no delays. The hearing had been set ahead of time for the allotted hours.
- There were no poor, miserable people hovering in the corners of the halls. No one screamed, like the woman in the film, Sentenced to Marriage: “Run from this place.” No one moaned, like the anonymous woman I ran into last week in the Supreme Rabbinic Court: “I’ve been here for 10 years. And I have no idea when this nightmare will be over.”
- We left the courtroom at three o’clock in the afternoon. A full day’s work.
- The judge was a woman. No one thought that it was at all odd that a woman was sitting in this honorable position. She didn't have to apologize for the fact that she was a woman, nor did she have to hide behind any veils or divisionary barriers. And no one checked in any ancient books, or wrote reams of words, in order to allow her to sit where she was sitting and to mete out justice. It was all a matter of fact, taken for granted – a woman judging people.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinical advocate, working at The Center for Women’s Justice
Translated by Susan Weiss