Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Still working on the Note.

Today I attended a lecture on the intersection of Halachic law and secular law in Israel given by Professor Daniel Sinclair, who is visiting at Fordham this year and teaching a course on Jewish bioethics and the law (which I hear is quite interesting). Sinclair gave three examples of how the Israel Supreme Court had used Jewish law to transcend inequities in Israel. In the first case, a woman divorced her husband. The husband subsequently became a Ba'al Teshuvah, and demanded the wife turn over the kids so that he could put them in a yeshiva. She refused. He went to a rabbinical court, which awarded him custody and refused to hear the mother's case. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court found that the rabbinical court had failed to follow the Biblical precept that justice requires hearing both sides of a case before rendering a decision, and on the basis of this rationale, allowed the mother to present her case and ultimately to retain custody.

In the second case, a heroin dealer was being chased by police. He swallowed the bags of heroin in his possession. The police took him to the hospital, and against his will, had surgeons extract the heroin. In the US, this case would be resolved in favor of the defendant; unless a judge gives the order, a doctor usually may not perform surgery against the will of a patient. The Israel Supreme Court, however, found against the drug dealer, holding that the extraction of the heroin was justified on a Pikuach Nefesh rationale, the concept that saving a life takes precedence over virtually all other obligations.

The last part of the lecture addressed the issue of how Israeli courts have dealt with agunot, women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce. Apparently secular courts can now sanction the husband in a number of ways, including denying him credit. In addition, courts are devising ways to allow Agunot and Mamzerim (bastard children who may only marry other Mamzerim or converts) to enter into arrangements that are marriage in everything but name.

It was an interesting talk; Sinclair is an animated presenter.

I'd be interested to see comments on issues relating to this topic.


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