'So long as the rabbinic court keeps a black list of mamzerim and it’s the only institution officially allowed to marry Jews in the State of Israel – we all partners in the crime of hurting persons who have committed no crime.' Rivkah Lubitch calls to get rid of the rabbinic court’s black list
In a book by Daphne du Maurier there’s a description of a horrible ceremony that took place nearly six hundred years ago in England. It involved a woman who "violated" the dignity of her husband when she had sexual relations with another man after she had already been widowed (Yes yes. You read right. She had sex with a man after the death of her husband!).
From the story it becomes clear that the woman was compelled to undergo the ceremony lest she lose all rights to her husband’s property. In other words: Either she took part in the ceremony and was allowed to continue living in her home, or she was thrown into the street. At the humiliating ceremony, the woman confessed her sins in detail to the priest and blood thirsty crowd. This is the way it worked: The woman was stripped to her waist and her hair was cut. She was then poised on a black sheep that she rode for a not insignificant distance to the laughter of the mob that gathered to witness and be forewarned. The woman rode on the sheep for about a hundred yards from the place of the ceremony. Then she was forced to dismount the sheep and crawl on her knees till she reached the priest. She then confessed her sins to the priest, who, in an act of grace, offered her absolution.
Seem familiar? We have something similar - the wayward woman (sotah), suspected by her husband of having sex with another man, is brought before the High Priest in the Temple Gate. Her hair is unraveled and her clothes let loose as she faces the curious crowd who comes each day to watch the spectacle. But it's an old story and doesn’t happen today. We’re not like that.
But even today there are ways to maintain the honor of men. We know well how to punish a woman who violates the honor of her husband by having sex -- we ostracize her child forever.
We punish her children in such a way that the woman will remember and never forget who sets the rules of the game, and what those rules are. Already in the womb, we turn the fetus conceived of the forbidden union into a type of monster. A creature who would have been better off never coming into this world. We label the child a “mamzer” and ostracize him or her forever. No mercy. No forgiveness. No repentance. No cure. S/He gets the ultimate punishment - social ostracism forever.
The personal is political. What a woman does in private is the business of the entire Jewish world, the laws of the State of Israel and its citizens for generations. So long as the rabbinic court keeps a black list of mamzerim and it’s the only institution officially allowed to marry Jews in the State of Israel – we all partners in the crime of hurting persons who have committed no crime. Don’t say that you didn’t know. Stop sticking your head in the ground. The State of Israel and the halacha have collaborated to harm innocent people. We need to work together to solve the problem and get rid of the black list for good.
Rivkah Lubitch works at the Center for Women’s Justice , Tel: 02-5664390