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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Now playing in synagogue theaters: Shonda, Shonda, Shonda

In September 2006, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah graduate Rabbi Darren Kleinberg organized a screening of "Sentenced to Marriage" in conjunction with his shul Kidma and the Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. Here's a description of the film:
...this shocking documentary exposes the Kafkaesque process of divorce for women in Israel where secular law does not exist, and divorce is dealt with according to archaic and fundamentalist orthodox Jewish law. Filmmaker Anat Zuria, maker of the award-winning Purity, gained rare access to the rabbinical courts to follow two women caught in the demoralizing legal labyrinth. Though husbands can live with other women and even withhold child support, wives are forbidden contact with other men. In some cases, these very modern, independent and well-educated women are forced to buy a divorce from their husbands for huge sums. As a result, thousands of Jewish women have lived in limbo indefinitely, both in Israel and in other communities around the world.
This is not the first time that a controversial video has been shown by a protege of Rabbi Avi Weiss. Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld organized screenings of "Trembling before G-d", a film that deals with Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality. Rabbi Herzfeld, assistant rabbi of HIR at the time, screened "Trembling before G-d" for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx. Rabbi Kanefsky screened the film for his synagogue.

Rabbi Kleinberg appears to have taken a different approach, screening "Sentenced to Marriage" in a pluralistic manner (see Reform Temple Chai Newsletter page 15). Kidma not only partnered with a "secular" film festival, but the film was shown at a Conservative synagogue. Afterwards there was a discussion panel of three rabbis that included Rabbi Kleinberg (Orthodox), and a Conservative and Reform (woman) rabbi.

The Orthodox agunah issue is a serious one that must be addressed. That said, whose issue is it? Why would an Orthodox rabbi spearhead the screening of a film (that portrays Orthodoxy negatively) with those whom the issue is not pertinent to? Conservative Judaism has its own way of dealing with their agunah issue. Reform Judaism does not adhere to the Orthodox or Conservative concepts of agunah. Regardless, "Sentenced to Marriage" deals with the Orthodox agunah issue.

Should Orthodox Jews proactively engage Conservative and Reform Jews (who may have been completely oblivious what an agunah is) about sensitive, Orthodox-specific issues such as agunah? Should an Orthodox rabbi seek opportunities to coordinate events with and at non-Orthodox places of worship to promote hotbutton Orthodox issues that are irrelevant to the non-Orthodox?

Some might say that we should do everything possible to promote understanding between the different sects of Judaism. However, profound culturally contextual issues such as agunah can only generate an unwarranted negative perception of Orthodoxy when addressed within the confines of a 1-2 hour film and discussion. Why not embrace issues that accentuate Orthodox similarities with the non-Orthodox instead of spotlighting culture-shock issues that radicalize our differences?

I reliably heard that Rabbi Kleinberg contacted other local Orthodox congregations to participate with this video presentation. They declined. I can't imagine why they said no...

Relevant links:
- Temple Chai Newsletter page 15
- "Till Death Do Us Part..."
- The Rabbis Respond contains interesting comments by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld about "Trembling before G-d" (for a commenter: you shouldn't assume that my intention is controversy or condemnation merely because I list a link. I am merely providing relevant information of interest.)
- "Trembling before G-d" review

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