And if anyone had any doubt, it’s the State of Israel that gives the religious judges the authority to decide who goes on the "blacklist", and it is the State which holds on to this secret list.
Here’s the story: A woman applies for a license from the State to marry the man she loved, after lawfully divorcing her first husband. When the clerk found out that the woman had a baby who was less than two years old, he refused to register the couple for marriage, explaining that they fell under the rule of a nursing mother ("meineket havero"), and sent them to the rabbinic court to clarify the matter.
The "meineket havero" rule states that a woman cannot get married as long as she is breastfeeding. In ancient times, women would nurse their children for two years. Because there were no milk supplements, the baby could die if it was not breastfed. The sages were apparently afraid that the new husband would prevent his new wife from breastfeeding a baby that was not his, and that he would not be willing to pay for a wet nurse. Therefore, a woman was not allowed to marry until her baby was two years old.
It is plain to see that this rule is completely irrelevant today – and often even harms the baby rather than helping it. Many women, especially widows, find a man who is more than willing to be the baby's father for all intents and purposes.
In most cases, requiring a woman to wait to remarry harms the baby who not only needs milk, but also a warm environment to grow up in. Some of the rabbinic adjudicators made an effort to find a way around this law, ruling that if the new husband is willing to support the baby and pay for milk supplements – the couple could marry.
Turning children into bastards
The woman appealed to the rabbinic court, where she was asked invasive questions such as whether she had milk and was she taking medication to stop lactation, and other intimate questions about breastfeeding, which are none of the rabbis’ business.
It is inconceivable that in a modern state, a woman is asked questions such as these by a judicial court, and it is inconceivable that the protocol of the hearing would state - as it did in this case - that the woman had problems pumping milk.
The State of Israel gives the rabbinic court control over women's' bodies to an embarrassing and humiliating degree – as a prerequisite for receiving permission to marry. The religious rules that limit marriage in such circumstances should be reserved for those who choose to live by those rules.
And if that were not enough, the State’s blatant involvement with the woman’s body continued and hurt the baby too. How? Since the baby was only registered under the mother's name and there was no father listed, the rabbinic court began asking questions and, on its own initiative, launched an investigation to determine when the mother conceived and who the father was.
After failing to receive clear answers, and after only one hearing, the rabbinic court decided to include the baby in the blacklist!
The mother's appeal to the Rabbinic High Court only led to a further deterioration of the matter. The Rabbinic High Court returned the case to the district court for additional inquiry, while calling to check the mother's medical records in an attempt to uncover more details about the child’s birth. It was only the High Court of Justice's intervention which moderated the stance of the rabbinic court, which ultimately found a way to clear the baby’s name and remove the child from the blacklist.
Is this the way to save children from being labeled as bastards? No, this is the way to intrude on women's bodies and turn their children into "mamzerim"!
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic pleader who works with the Center for Women's Justice .