The Dumbing Down of Israel

Another Independence Day. Another day in which the aroma of roasting meat fills the air wherever you turn. My OH and I are as guilty as anyone else of adding to the general consumption of meat on that day, and enjoy spending time in the open air with friends, because that’s what one does.

Yigal remembers that in his youth in the Haifa area he and everyone else would celebrate the day differently. In those days everyone was out in the streets milling around, then suddenly a few people would form a circle and spontaneously burst into song and dance (the hora, of course). That was long before people started ‘attacking’ one another with squeaky plastic hammer and foam spray.

As a new immigrant in the 1960s I remember enjoying the squeaky plastic hammer experience, though not the foam spray. After getting married and having small children our days of milling around in the streets were over, though we did manage to enjoy picnics in the garden with friends and relatives. Everyone brought their own food, and played games. We didn’t possess a barbecue.

Spending the concluding evening last night watching the Israel Prize ceremony gave me pause for thought, quite apart from my disgust at the censorship imposed by the Minister of Education in refusing to award the prize to a leading scientist because his political opinions were not in line with those of the government.

The Israel Prize is awarded for academic or social excellence, and serves as Israel’s attempt to provide its own version of the Nobel Prize. Sadly, I have never attended a Nobel Prize ceremony, but I have read about it, and I know it is a very stately and serious occasion. Just imagine, if the ceremony would be the occasion for a series of pop singers to pop up, sing and play at the tops of their voices a medley of songs of questionable taste (and certainly not my taste). But that was the overriding tone of the Israel Prize ceremony last night. The whole occasion left an impression of bad judgment and inferior standards.

The recent change in the way the classical music programme on the radio is presented is another sign of the times. Where in the past it was customary to broadcast an entire symphony or concerto with minimal presentation between the items, it now seems to have become de rigeur to play just one movement of a symphony or concerto, and then go on to something else. To make matters worse, certain broadcasters think that their musings and thoughts about music and life in general are of interest to the listening audience. FYI, they are not.

As the torrent of letters of complaint to the newspapers has shown, the audience of the classical music programme is outraged by the change in the approach, as well as by the inordinate amount of time devoted to pop and jazz, oriental music and composers no one has ever heard of.

All these developments reflect the general malaise of Israeli society in recent years, and they doubtless all stem from the political rot at the top. I know it’s a cliché to complain that the country is going to the dogs, but that is certainly the feeling among many people old enough to remember what the general atmosphere used to be. The main fear of my peers and myself is that it’s possible to decline further still.

Remembering

Last night and today (8 April) Israel is marking its own Holocaust Remembrance Day. In another week we will hold a day in which we honour the memory of our fallen soldiers, and then straight on its heels, we will celebrate Independence Day. It’s something of an emotional roller-coaster, but we have learned to take it in our stride.

What it means is that for a week or so the population undergoes some kind of catharsis, with each day marked by special events as well as radio and TV programmes dedicated to the subject. Thus, today, for example, the classical music programme broadcasts music composed by musicians who perished in the Holocaust (Pavel Haas, Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, for example), or Jewish composers who were banned by the Nazis (Mendelssohn, Mahler, etc.). The evening ceremony at Yad Vashem with which the day of remembrance starts, commemorating the six million Jews who were murdered, was televised, and all other TV programmes focused on that theme.

So all in all, it’s a day of sad contemplation of what the Jewish people has lost, not only in numbers but in individuals, parents, children, relatives, people who worked with their hands or their brains, doctors, scientists, artists, writers, and lawyers, and so many others. So much talent wasted, so many minds and bodies obliterated senselessly.

And then there were the children. My Facebook feed shows me photos of well-dressed children who were obviously dearly loved, their sweet, innocent faces looking out at me from the distance of time and space before they were torn from their homes and brutally killed. I sometimes find it unbearable to read the captions under the photos describing who they were and how old they were, and to my shame I quickly continue on to the next item in my feed.

The ceremony at Yad Vashem is also part of the package. I force myself to listen to the speeches, though when the politicians begin using the occasion to glorify their own achievements I have been known to switch away. But the ceremony also includes harrowing personal accounts from survivors, and these I find it impossible to avoid. Of course, those who survived are now in their eighties and nineties, but those who spoke were amazingly lucid and their memories clear, intense and distressing. But they all concluded their speeches by proclaiming their love for Israel and rejoicing in their families.

My cousin, Uri Lowenthal, has undertaken a project which involves transcribing and translating the last letters, postcards and Red Cross messages sent by our grandparents from Germany in 1941. A letter written by a relative some years later to Uri’s parents explained what had happened. True to their methodical approach to every aspect of their life, our grandparents had arranged everything for their journey out of Germany, with papers, train and steamer tickets, and every document required by the authorities. They were at the station with their luggage, about to board the train that would take them to the port, when the official who checked their papers declared that our grandmother, Paula, who was fifty-seven years old, was still young enough to work in a factory, and prevented her from leaving. Our grandfather, Max Hirsch, who was three years her senior, would naturally not agree to leave without her.

And so their fate was sealed. Whether they were sent to a concentration camp or died in some other way is not known. They, too, form part of the six million missing souls whose lives were cut short by the unimaginable cruelty of the Nazi machine. Just another drop in the ocean of sorrow that is part of our heritage.

Learning the Lingo

A recent article (by Elaine Samuels, on Facebook and in the Israel Telegraph online) recounted the trials and tribulations she experienced in her efforts to learn and speak Hebrew. This triggered long-dormant memories of my attempt to learn Hebrew.

Although it’s many years since I underwent that process, the memory came back as if it had been just last week. In my day (some fifty years ago) there was no internet, no ‘Tel Aviv Café’ and in fact computers hadn’t been invented. Learning a language was a lengthy and complex process involving frontal lessons, written homework and much pain.

The concept of the ‘ulpan’ (intensive immersion in a language) was developed to a fine art in Israel, and sometimes even involved a residential option. The idea is to classify students by level of fluency in Hebrew and assign them to classes accordingly.

But when I came to Israel, in the late summer of 1964, no ulpan would accept me. The university term was due to start in late October, and because I made it clear at the outset that I was not going to be able to complete the course I was refused admittance wherever I applied.

And so, completely unprepared as far as the language was concerned, I embarked on my M.A. studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, while at the same time working as a research assistant there. Luckily, my work in the Department of Sociology was based primarily on my ability to read and understand (and edit) the English texts produced by various members of the teaching staff. An attempt was made to test my ability to translate from Hebrew into English, but my ignorance of basic terms soon made it clear that this was not a good idea.

I would sit in lectures or seminars given in Hebrew, trying frantically to catch a word or two that I could understand, and attempting to work out the gist of what I was hearing from that. Obviously, that did not get me very far, and what with one thing and another (war, marriage, children) I never completed that degree.

When my daughter was born I stayed at home to look after her. In my isolation I would listen to the radio, and eventually managed to benefit from some of the programmes. One of my favourites was ‘For the Housewife,’ hosted every morning by now-famous actress Rivka Michaeli. This consisted of a pot-pourri of five-minute talks by various experts. One of these was a chef who provided useful recipes, another was a children’s doctor who doled out advice in a soothing voice, and yet another was the (female) editor of a newspaper who would talk about matters of the day, and so on. In between musical interludes Rivka Michaeli would interview artists, musicians or any other personality who was invited to the studio, and this, too, gave me some insight into what was happening in the world around me.

In effect, that programme was a useful introduction to life in Israel (my years at the university had kept me isolated from general Israeli society). In addition, somehow along the way I managed to pick up enough Hebrew to enable me to go on to my next career, as a translator of Hebrew texts into English.

So it would seem that the standard form of language teaching in Israel is not the right approach for everyone. I was lucky in having very little option but to listen to the radio when my children were small. And once they went to kindergarten and school the Hebrew language made its way into our daily life. My efforts to speak English with them were met with less and less success, though there are still vestiges of English in our communication with one another.

Even my grandchildren can communicate in English to some extent, though whether that’s due to my efforts or their need to keep up with the world around them is debatable.

Here We Go Again

It’s déjà vu all over again. Groundhog Day. More of same.

Another general election in Israel. The fourth in the space of two years. And again the result does not give a decisive majority to any combination of the 38 parties vying for our votes.

Israel’s society is fragmented into countless interest groups, with parties representing segments of the population, ideas and occasionally even ideologies that seek to predominate this small country.

I look with envy at England, my birthplace, with its two or three main parties. Even the USA, for all its faults, has managed to maintain its two-party system. Would that Israel could enjoy a similar situation.

While the rivalry between the various parties, factions and splinter groups reflects the nature of Israel’s population, it seems to have descended into farce when one enters the polling booth and is confronted by a tray containing 36 different options (6 x 6 compartments) for voting plus an ‘overflow tray’ with another two.

Even before the final results were in, our Machiavellian prime minister was already trying to cobble a coalition government together, even if this involved cooperating with extremist Jewish nationalists as well as the representative of an Arab Islamist party. What is clear is that the majority of Israel’s population appears to support right-wing views. Whether this is the result of natural selection or public relations is debatable.

I don’t use the term ‘Machiavellian’ lightly, but it does seem to represent Benjamin Netanyahu, whose machinations after the last election involved pleading publicly with Benny Ganz, the leader of the Blue-White party, to join forces with his Likud party to form a government, in which he promised ‘no tricks or funny business,’ and to enact a mid-term rotation with Ganz for the role of prime minister.

Needless to say, no sooner had Ganz responded to that call, thereby incurring the ire of his former colleagues in the Blue-White party, leading to a split in its ranks, than Netanyahu started to stymie him at every turn. The coup de grace came with Netanyahu’s refusal to enable the government to pass a budget, even though it had been agreed at the outset of the coalition negotiations that a two-year budget would be passed.

Following the Coronavirus epidemic, and the relative success in the acquisition and distribution of the vaccine, Netanyahu has managed the timing of the lockdowns and their subsequent relaxation so as to reach election day with maximum economic easing and permitted social contact.

Whether that is why people still vote for him or it is rather his ability to portray strength of character and inspire confidence remains a mystery to me. As far as I’m concerned he is a shady character with the ability to play a role and lie glibly that redounds to Israel’s shame.

Unless there is some kind of radical change, Israeli society seems doomed to enter a tunnel of racist, fascist, homophobic and retrograde policies, unless and until people wake up from their dreams of expansion and hegemony over others. But there’s no indication that that will happen any time soon.

Until the next general election, which is already looming on the horizon.

Image: Tomer Sapirstein

‘Eagle in the Sky’ by Wilbur Smith

I ordered this book from Bibliophile because the blurb proclaimed that its main character was a pilot who fell in love with an Israeli woman and fought for his adopted country. That, in essence, is the nub of the story, but around it surges and swells a series of events and adventures involving love and enmity, joy and sorrow, and a veritable roller-coaster of emotions for the reader, who cannot help but be drawn into this gripping tale of romance, adventure and action.

The hero of the story, David Morgan, is a handsome young man born into a wealthy South African dynasty who is expected to become a respected partner in the family firm. However, he spurns the career that has been mapped out for him in order to devote himself to his love of flying. In his travels through Europe he encounters a beautiful young Israeli, Debra, and eventually follows her to Israel.

In Israel he is considered suitable to serve as a fighter pilot in the country’s Air Force (I’m not sure that is actually feasible in this day and age), and forges a brilliant career for himself in that capacity. In the chapters that follow the reader is treated to a highly detailed account of the method of operating a Mirage aircraft, with copious amounts of technical information on a subject which this particular reader found rather tedious.

Subsequently the events come upon the characters thick and fast, with tense descriptions of incidents which may or may not have actually taken place at some point in Israel’s history, and these affect our main characters in various ways.

Without giving away too much about the way the story twists and turns in ways that have a direct bearing on the behaviour of the principal characters, the plot takes us on a bumpy physical and psychological ride through extensive medical procedures (again, far too much technical detail for my taste) more adventures and derring-do, and a final twist in the tail on the very last page of the book..

Although this type of book does not conform to my usual taste in reading matter, I found it to be well-written, interesting (on the whole), and a gripping yarn. On consideration, I’d say that the wealth of technical detail and high level of tension in the development of the narrative indicates that the target readership is the male of the species. It seems clear to me that the book was written with the idea or ambition in mind of having it turned into a movie So if that kind of book is your cup of tea, go for it!

A Literary Furore

The latest scandal to erupt in Israel’s literary arena has been triggered by the book published by Galia Oz, the daughter of the late, greatly-esteemed writer, Amos Oz. The memoir, entitled ‘Something Disguised as Love,’ burst upon the Israeli reading public in a blaze of publicity arising from its controversial revelations concerning the behaviour of Amos Oz towards his daughter.Galia Oz claims that in her childhood her father acted consistently and relentlessly in a violent and aggressive manner towards her, beating, kicking and abusing her verbally. She also claims that the entire Oz family ostracized and demonized her.

Literary circles in Israel have been having a field day, chewing over the contents of the book, analysing the author and the veracity of her claims. Thus, Benny Tzipper, the literary editor of Haaretz, uses the opportunity to denigrate both father and daughter for what he considers to be their inferior literary ability and ‘narcissism.’

Amos Oz has been universally acclaimed, both in Israel and abroad, as a leading literary talent, and I personally have greatly admired his use of language and ability to recreate time, place and character in those of his books I have read. Benny Tzipper has proved himself to be a capable literary editor, though in other aspects (his adulation for Sarah and Benjamin Netanyahu, and the fact that he is something of a dandy in his attire) I am deeply suspicious of his judgment.

He uses the opportunity presented by being able to review Galia Oz’s book to represent himself as a long-suffering victim of verbal abuse hurled at him on the phone by Amos Oz’s widow, claiming that her furious tirade caused him to forget to get off the bus when it reached ‘his’ kibbutz. The unsuspecting reader would assume that the writer is a member of a kibbutz somewhere in the north of Israel, but a quick glance at Google reveals that he merely lives in a suburban extension of a kibbutz, and hence has no affiliation with the socialist values of that institution.

For Benny Tzipper to accuse Amos Oz of being narcissistic is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. One might even argue that anyone who writes and publishes a book or an article is, by definition, narcissistic themselves.

But the plot thickens. The following weekend edition of the paper (today) contained a heartfelt article in the op-ed section (for obvious reasons, I’m guessing, not the literary section) by Mark Glazerman, who claims to have been a long-standing friend, as well as the physician, of Amos Oz, stating that he knows how saddened his friend was by the rift with his daughter which, according to Glazerman, was Galia’s doing.

By chance I happen to have reliable inside information about the rift within the family, which bears out Glazerman’s claim.

The sparks are still flying, and the book is still selling, which may have been the object of the exercise. The furore has given Benny Tzipper a chance to cast aspersions on one of Israel’s leading literary lights while at the same time (mis)representing himself as a noble warrior in Israel’s struggle for social justice.

At Last!

After a year of living in a cultural desert, the ban on public performances in Israel has finally been lifted. And last night when we were able at last to attend a real live concert.

The requirements were clear: anyone who had bought tickets had to provide proof of having been vaccinated twice, as well as a certificate of identity. The seating arrangements were equally stringent, with an empty seat between anyone not from the same household (very handy as a place to put one’s coat). We were told to come at a set time before the concert so that arrival times would be staggered. This being Israel, however, that particular requirement was tossed aside as people struggled to locate the necessary documents on their mobile phones and had to be helped in this by the staff. Although there is no age limit on getting vaccinated in Israel, the vast majority of the recipients are the over-sixties, and it was that age-group that constituted the majority of the audience.

Despite all the restrictions, the atmosphere was joyful. As is customary with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, since this was the first concert of the season a chocolate treat (a Ferraro sphere) was handed to each member of the audience as they entered the building. The familiar foyer of the Jerusalem Theatre was as festive and welcoming as ever, and even though social mingling was not allowed, there were many smiles and waves as people recognized familiar faces they hadn’t seen in over a year, and even strangers enjoyed one another’s company – from a distance.

Once everyone was seated, in accordance with the Coronavirus regulations, the orchestra filed in and took their socially distanced places on the stage to enthusiastic applause from the waiting audience. The members of the orchestra replied in traditional manner by stamping their feet or tapping their instruments, thus creating a thunderous noise. Like the audience, all the players were wearing masks, except for the wind and brass players, who were seated behind perspex screens.

More applause greeted the entry of the conductor, Doron Solomon, who was evidently moved. From the dais he turned to the audience and spoke briefly, saying how happy and honoured he was to be conducting the wonderful orchestra at this landmark concert, adding that he admired and respected every single member of the audience.

With the first strains of the music, Schubert’s overture to Rosamunde, the peace that only music and harmony can bestow on hundreds of assembled souls descended on the auditorium. No one coughed, no cellphone ringtone rang out and everyone was on their very best behaviour, treasuring the moment as a precious jewel to be stored in one’s memory of momentous events.

It bears noting that while in the past it was almost trivial, or at least routine, to go to a concert, last night’s performance was a momentous event. How I – and I believe many others – had longed for that moment when the orchestra began to play!

Needless to say, the music was inspiring, and the piano concerto by Haydn was played with aplomb by the very talented Ofra Yitzhaki. As an encore, after enthusiastic applause, she treated us to a delicious arrangement of a charming Israeli song disguised as a lied by Schubert (I wish I knew who arranged Schubert’s ‘Serenade’ as the introduction and accompaniment).

In line with the Coronavirus restrictions, there was no intermission, as that would have been the signal for the traditional social mingling. Hopefully, that, too, will come in the fullness of time and vaccinations. The concert ended with a fine performance of Schubert’s fifth symphony, followed by more long and enthusiastic applause, and then it was time to venture out once more into the cold Jerusalem night.

But our hearts were warm.

‘Jerusalem 1000 – 1400; Every People Under Heaven’

This beautifully-produced combination of a coffee-table book and exhibition catalogue was produced in conjunction with the exhibition of that title held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2016. It has been edited by Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb (both curators at the museum). For the exhibition hundreds of precious, beautiful and fascinating artefacts produced in and concerning Jerusalem in the Middle Ages were amassed from a wide range of sources all over the world. The book is a work of art in itself, with first-rate illustrations of the exhibits on each of its over three hundred pages of 150 gsm Perigord paper, typeset in Agmena and Dava Pro fonts, as the extensive and comprehensive final acknowledgements section tells us.

How I would have loved to be able to wander through the exhibition for several days, as it must have been a veritable wonderland of objects, manuscripts, reliquaries and jewellery created in mediaeval times, inspired by the city and concept of Jerusalem. For Jerusalem was not solely a physical but also a spiritual entity, a site of worship of all three principal religions, as well as a battleground where each one vied for supremacy.

One of the book’s opening paragraphs reads: “In about the year 1000 an extraordinary convergence of circumstances brought new attention to the medieval city, which continued unabated for the next four centuries. These included natural disasters, political turmoil, intense religious fervor, and a notable uptick in world travel.”

Thus, in the 1020s the Fatimid caliph of Egypt made agreements with Italian merchants and the Byzantine emperor to join him in rebuilding the city after a series of earthquakes, and the Karaites, a community of Babylonian Jews, proclaimed the need to move to Jerusalem. In 1099 European Christians achieved their dream, by means of the Crusade, of conquering Jerusalem. By 1187 Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, had retaken the city for Islam, to be succeeded by the Mamluk sultans who governed from Egypt. Each ruling power built and rebuilt monuments and centres of worship and study, in accordance with their beliefs, and in many cases destroyed those of their predecessors.

Improved conditions of travel by sea and land in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries enabled pilgrims and travelers to reach Jerusalem, and some, such as Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre, an Anglo-Saxon monk known as Saewulf, and the Spanish Jewish poet Judah Halevi, inter alia, left accounts of their travels, the storms they encountered at sea, and the wonders of Jerusalem.

On arrival in Jerusalem visitors were often as astounded by its markets as by its holy sites, with vaulted bazaars, areas devoted to specialized artisans, and a wide variety of goods on offer, as well as plentiful food. A visitor from Italy, marveled at the variety of foodstuffs available, another at the wide selection of meats and the abundance of kitchens, while a third noted ‘the citron, the almond, the date, the nut, the fig, the banana, milk in plenty, as well as grapes, honey and sugar.’

In both Hebron and Jerusalem, which were among the foremost pilgrimage sites for all three religions, as well as Nazareth and Bethlehem for Christians, food and religion were interconnected, mixed with commerce and motivated by the large numbers of visitors. For Christians, Jews, and Moslems a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an important feature of religious worship, so that the city served as a lodestone for people from all over the world. Trade was also an important reason for travel, and commercial activity served to foster relations and interaction between the various communities.

The artefacts in the exhibition display the amazing skill and resourcefulness of the artists and artisans of the period, with each religion and community presenting its own special achievements and trends, whether in objects or manuscripts, some of them including beautiful, colorful illustrations. The period appears to have been characterized by immense creativity as well as intellectual and political activity, not to mention the armed combat that took place in and around the region.

All three main religions and the myriad communities comprising each one combined to produce a colourful array of objects, paintings, and artefacts that still today inspire us with wonder and enable the contemporary observer to enter, albeit partially, into the world and mindset of the people who inhabited and formed that fascinating period in human history.

Lockdown Lessons

It’s just a year since the Coronavirus alighted upon us, upsetting our way of life and causing us to abandon most of what we used to call ‘normal life.’

But what was ‘normal life’? For everyone it was something different, and hence for some people the restrictions and boundaries that were imposed on us were harder than they were for others.

Obviously, for parents of young children who were suddenly deprived of the school or nursery framework to which they had become accustomed the situation was far harder than it was for seniors like myself, and especially so if they were living in small, crowded apartments. During lockdown periods children were not even allowed to go outside to play, and that must have been dreadful for all concerned. And for the parents involved missing the stimulation provided by being in the work environment must have added to an already-heavy burden.

Older children, teenagers, and young people in general must also have had a very hard time. I remember my teenage years, when interacting with other people my age was all-important, whether it was in the classroom, the youth movement, at university, or in other social settings. The reflection of oneself that one finds in being in the company of other youngsters is what helps to define who and what we are, and being deprived of that inevitably leaves an immense gap in our social, intellectual and individual development.

For seniors like myself, however, the lockdown hasn’t really made too much difference. I’m lucky in living in a roomy house with a small garden, and have my OH with me. For much of my working life as a free-lance translator-editor I worked from home, and saw no hardship in that. In fact, when I started working in a major financial institution at a later stage in my life I found it quite hard to get used to. When I told my boss that I felt like a bird in a cage, he told me to go and walk or sit in the nearby park in my lunch hour, which I duly did. It certainly helped, and eventually I got used to going to an office and staying in it all day, and even enjoyed the company of my colleagues.

It has been a period in which we have turned in on ourselves, cutting down on outside activities and interaction with other people. I have divided my day into mornings for writing and afternoons for reading, with activities such as painting, gardening, playing the piano, as well as eating, cooking, baking, and watching TV and/or Netflix in between. OH has used the time to undertake various DIY jobs in and around the house, and I have certainly benefited from that.

There are few things I really miss in lockdown, and like most people, I have managed to get used to this. Not being able to go shopping myself no longer bothers me. On the contrary, I almost resent having to be in a situation where mingling with other people is unavoidable, and I try to time whatever excursion I find unavoidable to times when as few other people as possible are around.

We have managed to see some family members, including grandchildren, from time to time, whether outside in the garden or inside, weaking masks and keeping far apart. Until we had our second injection we did not indulge in hugging or kissing them, but since then we do (in moderation, of course). Being able to continue attending classes and meetings via Zoom is a boon, though something is nevertheless lacking, and I resent the tendency I see in every such setting for one or two people to dominate the meeting, no matter how hard the moderator or teacher tries to restrain them. But that’s human nature, I suppose, and that happens in every setting.

What I do miss most are concerts. I hear classical music on the radio all day, but there’s nothing like getting dressed to go to a concert, then sitting with like-minded people as we watch and listen to the orchestra giving of its best to perform wonderful music. Each time it’s a unique and matchless experience, and that is something that cannot be replicated with recorded music or even music performed live and broadcast.

So, roll on the easing of the restrictions on live performances of every kind! I’ll be the first in line to buy tickets.

Outrageous!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 800px-wedding_rings.jpg

When I heard that the man, currently in police custody, accused of attempting to murder his wife (and who very nearly succeeded, inflicting horrendous injuries on her), was refusing to grant her a divorce, it made my blood boil. Since then I have learned that one of the rabbis in the court in charge of the matter put pressure on the husband to grant the divorce I breathed a sigh of relief..

Here we have a man who will, hopefully, spend most of the rest of his life behind bars, still vindictively and viciously attempting to reach out from his incarceration to impose a ban on any hope of future married happiness on the woman he has already indelibly harmed. Fortunately, it took just one enlightened rabbi to get him to change his mind, but that does not mean that all rabbis are so broad-minded.

The fact of the matter is that the ever-more frequent instances of a husband killing or maiming his wife are almost a staple of the nightly news programmes on Israel’s television, and we are not even aware of the number of husbands who refuse to ‘grant’ their wives a divorce.

What it comes down to, when all’s said and done, is that far from being a modern, forward-looking society, Israel is still stuck in a set of hide-bound laws, rules and regulations that hark back to a primeval society in which the female of the species is no more than a thing, a chattel, to be handed over from one male custodian, her father, to another male custodian, her husband, at the traditional marriage ceremony.

I won’t even give this arrangement the compliment of according it the epithet ‘mediaeval,’ as is often done to denote an archaic, antediluvian arrangement such as this. Mediaeval society, for all its faults, was not totally mired in primitive ancient attitudes. In the Middle Ages some women engaged in commerce or owned hospitality establishments, while certain high-born ladies were even able to rule countries and empires. Both European and English history display many examples of this.

The arrangement established at the time the State of Israel was founded gave the rabbinical courts authority over family law, and this has remained the situation till now. However, a growing proportion of Israelis resent having to kowtow to ancient beliefs and procedures, starting with the requirement that a bride must undergo ritual immersion before her wedding ceremony. That was all well and good at a time when there was no indoor plumbing or public sewage systems, but what is the point of it in this day and age? Absolutely none, other than to preserve unnecessary and ridiculous control over the individual’s private life.

Then there is the traditional marriage ceremony, which harks back to ancient practices that have no relevance in this day and age. There are those who see some beauty in maintaining ancient traditions, and I wish them every happiness, but there is no reason why everyone who gets married in Israel in the twenty-first century has to abide by them. And so an increasing number of Israelis choose to go abroad to get married in a civil ceremony which, because of the rabbinical veto, is non-existent in Israel.

The bottom line is that under Jewish and Israeli law a man who bullies, abuses, beats and even tries to murder his wife can still exert control over her by refusing to ‘grant’ her a divorce. In this day and age it is high time the law in Israel was changed to allow a women to divorce her husband, if that is her wish.

The time has come to put an end to the arbitrary hold a man in Israel has over his wife, and introduce legislation that enables full equality between the sexes in family law. It is high time the power of the rabbis and their courts was curtailed, allowing Israel’s population – whether male, female or other – to enjoy the basic freedom that is the right of every individual in the modern world.

Since I’m not familiar with Moslem law, this article does not refer to that community, which doubtless has issues of its own in this respect.

Image: wedding ring –Wikimedia Commons