December 7, 2007

Partner Organizations Own Center’s Archives

Regardless of whether a merger is desirable between New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the Center for Jewish History, as Lawrence Shiffman and Elisheva Carlebach debate in opposing November 30 opinion articles, facts regarding ownership of the center’s resources and of its mission need clarification (“Securing the Future of the Center for Jewish History: NYU Has Resources for Growth/Independence Is Invaluable”).

The collections, books and archives, so valued by both writers, in fact do not belong to the center. They belong to its constituent organizations, the five independent not-for-profit corporations that make up the Center for Jewish History, which was originally intended to be no more than a condominium-like arrangement to enhance each organization’s mission and resources.

Indeed, the vast majority of the books and archival materials belong to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the first organization to fund and establish the center in its originally proposed format — which was a facility intended to relieve the constituents of building operations and maintenance responsibilities in order to better focus on their core missions.

To the extent the center has come to be something other than originally intended, it has done so on the backs of its constituent organizations, featuring their resources and in some instances, competing with them for funds, programs and public recognition. The confusion has escalated to the point that the center’s financial difficulties are mistakenly attributed to its constituents.

Each organization offers unique attributes, resources and perspectives. NYU would be well served to not confuse the Center for Jewish History with its contents and constituents. Each autonomous non-profit corporation must be satisfied that a proposed combination with NYU is in its own best interests and in furtherance of its mission.

Apply Rabbinic Law To Free ‘Chained Women’

It has unfortunately been our experience that even mainstream Orthodox rabbinical courts pressure agunot, or “chained women,” to accede to their husband’s demands in exchange for a get, or religious divorce (“Rabbi Faces Protest Over ‘Chained Women,’” November 9). The prenuptial agreement which many Orthodox rabbis ask couples to sign does not annul marriages, as the Forward reports.

By signing the prenuptial agreement, the couple may agree to come before the Beth Din of America to adjudicate issues involved in a possible religious divorce. Furthermore, by signing the agreement, a recalcitrant husband agrees to pay $150 per day for every day he refuses to grant a get. It has also been our experience that even when such an agreement is signed, the rabbis pressure the wife to give into the husband’s demands and the financial penalty accrued by the husband is not paid to the wife.

Authoritative rabbinic precedents exist for dissolving Orthodox Jewish marriages when a husband absolutely refuses to grant a get. Sadly, in most relevant cases Orthodox rabbinical judges prefer to pressure the agunah to give into the husband’s blackmail in exchange for a get, rather than apply relevant rabbinic law to free them.

The appearance of several prominent Orthodox rabbis at the rally reported on by the Forward did not result in the freeing of “chained women.” If the same prominent rabbis would apply Halacha to free these women, then maybe the agunah problem could be solved.

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December 7, 2007

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