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The 'Bigamist' Versus the 'Agunah'

Amy Klein writes in the Jewish Journal 3/24/06:

When Rabbi Hagai Batzri remarried, on Feb. 5 in Los Angeles, his first wife, Luna Batzri, still hadn’t received a get from him, a Jewish divorce.

According to Jewish law, the rabbi, 41, is now married to two women at the same time, and Luna, 36, seems to be in the unfortunate position of being an agunah, literally a “chained woman,” unable to remarry.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of agunot around the world, and they face numerous emotional and practical obstacles. Not only can these women not remarry, but Jewish law dictates that a child born to an agunah can never marry a Jew, and her offspring and subsequent generations cannot marry Jews, either. Forever.

Reports on the Batzri case have prompted outrage in Israel and in Los Angeles, both because Hagai is from a prestigious religious family in Jerusalem and because Luna is seen as yet one more victim of the inequities between Orthodox men and women.

But as is often the case with divorce, there are complications in the story of this young couple who were once leaders of a Sephardic synagogue and schooling center in Los Angeles’ Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Although the characters in this Los Angeles-Israel drama fit into stereotypical roles — the “poor wife,” aggrieved by her “powerful religious husband” and by the “evil rabbinical courts” — there is another side to the tale.

Free Luna Batzri

A Purim protest in Israel. The sign reads Free Luna Batzri. The day was International Free Aguna Day.

It's from the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv in the section called Judaism.

Around late February 2006, I walked into shul and saw a flier screaming about the following story:

Devora Lapidot writes me:

Rabbi Chagai Batzri, son of the head Dayan Judge in Rabbinic Court of Jerusalem, married a second wife. The problem is he never divorced his first wife, Luna. How did he do that? Easy, his father arranged a special permit to marry a second wife [about a month ago] given by a number of Sephardi rabbis. It was written by Rabbi Ben-Zaken of Beverly Hills. Rabbi's Batzri's new wife just joined the fold by converting to Judaism. His first wife Luna Batzri protested to no avail. They are still fighting in LA civil court over the division of their assets. Luna refused to go to Bet Din over the assets. She feared the rabbi's family connections will work against her chances for a fair trial. So, she went to the civil court. So, rabbi Ben-Zaken found her disrespectful and granted Rabbi Batzri a special permit.

Rabbi Batzri's story was aired on Israeli TV at length since then including interviewing his father. It was also written about at the daily newspaper HaAretz.

- How come Rabbi Batzri was permitted by the Rabbi's to marry a new wife without a Get?

- What about all the poor women remaining Agunot because the husbands refusal to grant them a Get (a Jewish divorce)?

- Isn't the Batzri case a clear of discrimination against women? When a husband refuses to grant a Get, the woman will never be married by any Rabbi. Reason: She is considered not single. But in case of a man...

- True! NOT ANY MAN! It helps to be a son of a Dayan. not just a Dayan... But the Head Dayan of the Rabbinical court of Jerusalem... Who has lots of friends... Who happen to be... Rabbi's! Suddenly and in a split second a solution was found how to free the rabbi. Free to get married again.

- Happy Ending? Not to his wife. Certainly not to the numerous Jewish women called AGUNOT, who are shackled for the rest of their lives to sadistic men that refuses to grant them a Get and blackmails in return for a Get.

- If you don't believe it - read Kolech.org. How many women are not as lucky as Rabbi Batzri?

The Bazri's case proves that: WHERE THERE IS A WILL - THERE IS A WAY..For men only! Shame on you Rabbis.

Why Does Rabbi Chagai Batzri Have Two Wives?

Ahuva Zonnberg writes: "How was Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky Drasha at B'nei David Judea entitled, "Why does Chagai Batzri have two wives? An unfolding story of Halacha, decency, and public policy in our very own community." Can we, please, get a report on its content?"

I noticed extra security at the shul Shabbos morning, March 18, 2006. The Batzri family turned out.

Rabbi Kanefsky began by mentioning he welcomes the Bazri family's feedback. Then he stated the problem: Because Rabbi Batzri's first wife refused to allow a Beit Din to adjudicate the disposition of their assets, and instead took the case to secular courts, she violated Jewish law. Rabbi Batzri refused to give her a get (divorce). He then got permission from Rabbi Ben-Zaken to remarry and did so about a month ago.

Rabbi Kanefsky mentioned that Rabbi Gershon one thousand years ago forbade Ashkenazi Jews from having more than one wife (though polygamy had died out among them hundreds of years earlier). Yes, Rabbi Batzri and his wife Luna were Sephardic, but the Sephardic decisors of Jewish law, such as Rabbi Ovad Yosef, also oppose polygamy and oppose the loophole through which Rabbi Chagai Batzri remarried.

Rabbi Kanefsky mentioned he spoke to the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox rabbi's union), the RCC (Rabbinical Council of California, the most powerful Orthodox authority in California), Rabbi Ben-Zaken (who permitted and enabled Rabbi Batzri's second wedding) and Rabbi Batzri. Rabbi Kanefsky said there was reason to hope that a solution would be found soon.

Afterwards, Rabbi Kanefsky was warmly and widely congratulated and everyone I heard talking about the matter praised his talk.

I believe he is the first rabbi to dicuss this matter from the pulpit (bima). He was also the first Orthodox rabbi to talk to a support group for Orthodox homosexuals (though the rabbi insisted that the talk be opened up to a wider audience than just the support group). Rabbi Kanefsky reluctantly participated in a debate about same sex marriage at the University of Judaism in May of 2004.

Rabbi Kanefsky says that girls should get the same Torah education as boys. I believe he would support giving women aliyot (called to the Torah to recite a blessing during its reading) if it was politically and socially feasible. His synagogue (BnaiDavid.com) is the most religiously liberal of any Orthodox shul west of New York City. Because of his support for women's prayer groups, he was asked to leave the RCC's kashrut committee (which was presided over until recently by Rabbi Aron Tendler).

Most of his Sabbath sermons are aggadic (stories and inspiration). Some people love that. Others prefer when he teaches text and law.

As a child, Yosef Kanefsky was known as "Mr. Logical." He hasn't changed.

Bathsheva writes 3/22/06:

Today's Maariv: Judaism section: (I translated it from Hebrew): Rabbi Batzri, the Kabbalist, investigated for inciting racism. The Attorney General of Israel instructed to start a criminal investigation of Kabbalist David Batzri and his son. Among the "Pearls" that caused this investigation: "The Jewish nation is pure, The Arabs are a nation of Ass/Donkey." In Hebrew pure and donkey have similar ending sounds they don't even rhyme.

Rabbi Batzri response: "We just quoted the Torah."

Other "Gems" from Google:

* The Avian Flue breakout is a direct result of supporting Gay Rights in Israel: homosexuals should be “put to death”

SHAME.ORG: Rabbi David Batzri told the Israeli Ma`ariv newspaper that homosexuals should be “put to death” according to Jewish religious law.

* Hurricane Katrina is a punishment to the USA for causing Israel to evict Gush Katif: Rabbi Batzri told his students at the Hashalom Yeshiva that Hurricane ... The well-known cabbalist, Rabbi David Batzri, said that the devastation and...

* The guy is multitalented he is also an Exorcist: By Arutz-7 News Service The Israeli media have reported the removal ceremony of a dybbuk [wandering soul] that was performed by Kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri.

Feb. 25, 2008

The Batzris provide gem after gem for bloggers low on content.

Here's the latest:

In a meeting that took place last night against the creation of a joint Jewish-Arab school in the Pat neighborhood of Jerusalem, several rabbis led by Rabbi David Batzri attacked the plan.

Comments by the rabbis who participated in the meeting… included a number of racial expression against Arabs.

Kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri said: "Establishing a school like this is a disgraceful, dirty deed. It is impossible to mix the pure with the impure. They are a blight, a devil, a disaster. The Arabs are donkeys, and we have to ask ourselves why didn't God create them to walk on all fours. Well, the answer is that they are needed to build and to clean. They don't have any place in our school."

His son, Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri, also referred to the commentary that says “the Ishmaelites are like donkeys", and said: "The Arabs are inferior. What do they want? They want to take our daughters. So, call us racists. Well, they are wicked, they are atrocious, they are dirty like snakes. There is pure and there is impure, and they are impure".

-- Rabbis make racial comments against Arabs Walla! News, 10 Jan 2006.

Jane writes: "What a family! Ready or not here he goes and please don't call him a racist as he is GREAT KABBALIST. "The Arabs don't need schools. They are B'haymot (cattle). The reason they don't have four legs is so they can work... " In reference to mixed education Arab and Jewish students, which we may object to on religious ground but what a choice of words. He claims that his view is based on traditional sources."

Lawrence blogs: "David and Yitzhak Batzri are hardly the voice of Israeli Judaism. If I recall correctly, it was Rabbi Batzri (the elder) who reacted to Jerusalem's first gay pride parade by suggesting that all homosexuals should be put to death(!), so there is definitely a touch of the Pat Robertson about him. But Pat Robertson's hateful, stupid remarks about Ariel Sharon don't really have the real-life implications of David Batzri's hateful, stupid comments about Arabs, do they? The first phase of the Road Map requires both sides to clamp down on incitement against the other, precisely because Israel and Palestine have more than their share of kooky imams and rabbis whose hate speech attracts a large audience, some of whom from time to time act upon that hatred by attacking - and sometimes killing - the untermenschen on the other side."