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Spertus presented the Chicago premiere of Women Unchained, an important new film that documents the experiences of modern-day agunot, women whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce.
Women Unchained includes illuminating interviews with leading women’s rights advocates, rabbis, and experts. The film explores the state of women’s rights in Judaism and details “get-o-nomics,” the outlandish extortion schemes levied against some women.
The film’s Emmy-award-winning director, Beverly Siegel, introduced the film and participate in a post-screening panel.
The panel was led by Emily Soloff, Associate Director for Interreligious and Intergroup Relations for the American Jewish Committee, and included eminent authority on halakha (Jewish law) Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz and international women’s rights lawyer Sharon Shenhav, both of whom are interviewed in the film.
Rabbi Schwartz’s opinion is frequently sought by both Jewish and secular sources on issues relating to Jewish law. He serves as the av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) of both the Beth Din of America and the Chicago Rabbinical Council. In 2002 he was appointed head of a three-judge panel which examined cases of agunot from the September 11 attacks, using DNA testing of remains to verify the death of their husbands.
Ms. Shenhav is the founder and director of the International Jewish Women's Rights Project, which seeks to end discrimination against women in marriage, divorce, and family law. She has been a member of the Israeli delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and serves as the only woman on the Commission to Appoint Religious Court Judges (Dayanim) in Israel.
Beverly Siegel and co-producer Leta Lenik made Women Unchained as a way to increase awareness — and help find solutions — to the problem of women separated from their husbands but left in limbo without being able to move on or remarry. They see the film as a way for rabbis and laypersons, often pitted against each other on this issue, to hear each other’s points of view.
Image courtesy of The National Center for Jewish Film.
This program was the Norman Asher Memorial Lecture and the Alex and Klara Tulsky Symposium for 2012. It addresses pressing challenges facing the American Jewish community and reflects the vision and communal interests of the donors of these long-standing endowed Spertus programs.
Women Unchained, which premiered in March 2011 as the opening film of the Women and Religion Film Festival in Jerusalem, is narrated by actress Mayim Bialik (of Blossom and The Big Bang Theory). It features an original score by C Lanzbom, lead singer and guitarist of Soul Farm.