Love, Law and ‘Ruth’

Jerusalem Post - - BUSINESS & FINANCE - • By HAIM KATZ and SAM KATZ of­fice@drkat­ Dr. Haim Katz is se­nior part­ner in a law firm based in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Sam Katz is also a part­ner. Both have writ­ten books on in­her­i­tance law, fam­ily law and real es­tate as well as be­ing ac­tive in

How is the beau­ti­ful, ele­giac, Book of Ruth that we are go­ing to be read­ing on Shavuot im­pacted by the dry­ness and im­per­son­al­ity of the law? On the face of it, the touch­ing love story be­tween not-so-young peo­ple (she was a al­ready a widow and he was an older man) among the sheaves of wheat in the pas­toral at­mos­phere of an­cient Judea seems to have lit­tle to do with the tech­ni­cal de­tach­ment as­so­ci­ated with le­gal mat­ters

But Ruth has threads of le­gal im­port run­ning through­out the po­etic nar­ra­tive.

In fact, right at the out­set there is a state­ment about the per­va­sive rule of law.

Look at the open­ing: “Those were the days when the Judges judged.” Thus, in the very first words the tone is set and tells us that this was a so­ci­ety – a pre-Da­vidic Iron Age agri­cul­tural so­ci­ety – where the so­cial or­der was de­fined by rules of civ­i­lized be­hav­ior.

The Book of Ruth dis­cusses modes of in­her­i­tance, the in­alien­able rights re­lat­ing to own­er­ship of land, levi­rate mar­riages and du­ties to wid­ows and the poor.

But the most salient part of the short book and one that has a di­rect bear­ing us liv­ing in mod­ern Is­rael is how love can bring to­gether peo­ple of to­tally dis­parate back­grounds – in fact, com­pletely op­pos­ing back­grounds – Boaz be­ing an aris­to­cratic Is­raelite and Ruth be­ing a Moabite.

Even in those far-off days there was free­dom of move­ment and im­mi­gra­tion. Naomi and Elim­elech fled the famine; they sim­ply walked across the river to Moab, which to­day is in the area of Jor­dan. Then, af­ter the tragedies that struck them in that coun­try, they picked up and re­turned to Naomi’s home­land.

So Ruth shows us that the new­comer is of­ten to be wel­comed and that the join­ing of the lo­cal and the foreign can bring as­ton­ish­ing re­sults, such as the cre­ation of a royal dy­nasty for the Jewish peo­ple.

But there are laws and rules that gov­ern such fu­sion.

Boaz could not have mar­ried Ruth un­less she was a con­vert. Once a con­vert, she was wel­comed and in­deed hon­ored.

But what are the rules if love brings two peo­ple to­gether who, un­like Ruth, can­not in truth say to each other: “Your peo­ple shall be my peo­ple and your God my God.”

Is­rael does not have a pro­vi­sion for peo­ple of dif­fer­ing re­li­gions mar­ry­ing each other.

Is­rael is not unique. For ex­am­ple, Le­banon and Egypt do not en­able civil mar­riage, nor do many other Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries, rooted as they are in Ot­toman law.

So where do peo­ple get mar­ried if they are un­able to do so in Is­rael? They marry abroad. The num­bers are telling. Be­tween Au­gust 2011 and 2012, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Bureau of Sta­tis­tics, about 20,000 Is­raeli cou­ples got mar­ried out­side of Is­rael, many of them in Cyprus

These civil mar­riages are regis­tered by the In­te­rior Min­istry for the pur­pose of spousal rights.

But things get more tan­gled when the cou­ple re­turns to live in Is­rael and the re­la­tion­ship founders.

How do you get civilly di­vorced in a coun­try in which mar­riage and di­vorce are reg­u­lated by reli­gious courts?

The reli­gious au­thor­i­ties, whether the rab­binic or the Sharia courts or the rec­og­nized Chris­tian churches, have no ju­ris­dic­tion over mixed-faith cou­ples.

So which author­ity can rule that the cou­ple are di­vorced? And how does one get out of a mixed-faith mar­riage if things go wrong?

In Is­rael, that author­ity is given to the Fam­ily Law Court, which takes a sec­u­lar view of the mixed mar­riage. How does this work? If both par­ties agree to part, ap­pli­ca­tion is made by both par­ties to the Fam­ily Law Court.

To as­cer­tain whether the sec­u­lar fam­ily court is not im­ping­ing on the ju­ris­dic­tion of a reli­gious court, the deputy pres­i­dent will con­sult with the ap­pli­ca­ble reli­gious courts be­fore rul­ing on the ap­pli­ca­tion.

If there is no con­sen­sus be­tween the par­ties, the court will hold a hear­ing to de­ter­mine whether the mar­riage has bro­ken down, ac­cord­ing to a va­ri­ety of pa­ram­e­ters, and rule ac­cord­ingly. How the court reaches such a de­ci­sion is too lengthy to be dealt with in this short ar­ti­cle, but the Is­raeli civil court can de­clare the mar­riage dis­solved.

So did how we get from the in­spir­ing love story of Ruth and Boaz to the ques­tion of di­vorce.

The Jewish view, al­low­ing di­vorces, is sim­ple and prag­matic: Love and mar­riage may be the high­est val­ues, and di­vorce is a tragedy. But a greater tragedy is stay­ing in an un­happy mar­riage.

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