With this latest installment, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem,” the trilogy that tells the story of Viviane Ansalem clearly asked the questions: What is a woman worth in Israel? And, do they really have equal rights?
You’d think with a country that had a female prime minister, Golda Meir (1898-1978), who was the fourth prime minister of Israel (1969-1974).
Israel grants Jews the right to return to their “homeland,” and citizenship by both residence and descent as well as naturalization and marriage. Living under Jewish law in a nation state that was created for Jews might seem like an ideal situation for those who experience anti-Semitism elsewhere , but “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem” reveals a society that favors men and frightens women. The movie makes one question the value of Israel’s existence if it can’t treat half its Jewish population well.
Israel was created after the British Mandate expired in 14 May 1948. The nation survived the 1948 Arab-Israeli War against Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq in the British Mandatory Palestine, even after Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Sudan joined the war. There have been wars and military actions since then, but that is not what “Gett” is about.
“Gett” is about domestic warfare, the bruises are emotional and some of them inflicted by the divorce court.
Israel has a three-tier court system. Marriage and divorce are under religious courts. According to an article on the NPR website, a civil/family court or the rabbinical courts can decide “matters that are ancillary to the issue of divorce” and “the court that receives the suit first gets to decides on issues like custody and property.” Women race to family court while men run to the rabbinic court where they have a tactical advantage. Yet for the divorce, the rabbinical court has the final say.
During the divorce proceedings, the husband must of his free will give his wife a gett (or get). For Jewish women in Israel and American Orthodox Jews Gett (or get) this means the get must be written for a specific man and woman.The get text is short: “You are hereby permitted to all men,” meaning that the wife is no longer a married woman and thus may remarry without the stigma of committing adultery. It must be delivered to the wife who must physically accept it.
“Gett” is the third movie about Viviane by Moroccan Jewish brother and sister team Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz. The first was the 2004 “To Take a Wife.” Viviane is already unhappy, but the men in her family tell her to stay because she is no longer beautiful and an“abandoned wife is no better than a childless wife.”
Men in the rabbinical courts may also have problems divorcing, but if there wife refuses to receive the get, a man can get a Heter Meah Rabbanim, or permission by one hundred rabbis. This legal recourse is not open to women.
In Israel, where there is neither civil marriages nor civil divorces for Jews. Only rabbis can grant divorces. “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem” takes place the small cramped office where Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) waits with her lawyer to be heard by a panel of three rabbis (Rami Danon, Sasson Gabai and Eli Gornstein). Her husband, Elisha Amsalem (Simon Abkarian) may or may not show up.
For those unfamiliar with Israeli films, this is the third movie about Viviane by the sister and brother writing and directing team of Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz. The 2004 “To Take a Wife,” introduced us to the couple, Viviane and Elisha, and who with their four children and his widowed mother live in a small apartment where Viviane also runs a beauty salon. “To Take a Wife” we aren’t convinced that the husband is so bad.
The 2008 “7 Days,” brings Viviane’s family together during the 1991 Gulf War for a funeral of a brother. Viviane has separated from her husband but he still hopes for a reconciliation.
“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem” is about the interviews and appointments Viviane has with the rabbinical court. Her husband might come. He might agree to come and not show up. He might even agree to give her the get and then change his mind. He is imprisoned and yet as the trial drags on for years, Viviane does not give up, but the rabbis do. They actually refuse to see them any more. Viviane must beg.
What dignity can there be for a woman who has to beg the judges to hear her case? We also see witnesses, women who are afraid to contradict their husbands and men who will defend Elisha up to an extent.
Five years fighting for freedom brings a horrible anguish on to Viviane’s pale face and the savagery of Elisha’s passive-aggressive nature is revealed.
The movie has inspired a movement in Israel and even though the movie which failed to make the Oscar Best Foreign film final list, “Gett” sheds light on a current case in New York where rabbi Mendel Epstein stands accused of kidnapping husbands to coerce them through beatings and torture to provide a get to their wives. According to the New York Daily News, Epstein was indicted in May of last year along with his son and three other Orthodox rabbis. The 69-year-old New Jersey rabbi’s trial started on Feb. 18 and Epstein could face a maximum of 20 years to life in prison according to ABC News.
In the end, after seeing “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem” one doesn’t want to be a Jewish woman in Israel unless one believes in happily-ever-after marriages and other Disney fairy tales.
“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May of last year and opened in Israel in September. The movie opens at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 on February 27. In French and Hebrew with English subtitles.