Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar caved in to pressure from haredi rabbis in Israel at the last minute and Thursday afternoon cancelled what was to be a ground-breaking conference on the issue of agunot, women who cannot remarry because they have been unable to obtain a divorce from their husbands.
Less than a week before the conference, Amar ordered Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, administrative head of the rabbinate’s court system, to send out e-mails to dozens of leading rabbis notifying them of the cancellation.
"We might have something small for Diaspora rabbis who have already arrived in Israel," said Ben-Dahan, "but the main conference was cancelled."
"I am disgusted and disappointed with Rabbi Amar," said Sharon Shenhav of the International Council of Jewish Women, an umbrella organization with members in 47 countries, who worked closely with Amar over the past two years to plan the conference, which was to take place in Jerusalem on November 7 and 8.
"We had agreed from the very beginning that women would not be present at the conference," said Shenhav. "The historic importance of the conference, which would have been the first of its kind, meant that we were willing to cooperate."…
Sources close to Amar said the demand to cancel came from Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the most important living haredi Ashkenazi halachic authority.
Elyashiv and haredi rabbis and judges close to him oppose Amar’s push to institute prenuptial agreements that would make it easier to free agunot, said the sources. For halachic reasons Elyashiv opposes the use of such agreements, arguing that it is a type of coercion which makes the get or divorce certificate, invalid.
However, one source said that Amar had specifically received permission from Elyashiv to go ahead with the conference when planning first began two years ago. "I don’t know what happened all of a sudden," said the source.
A source close to Elyashiv said that the rabbi never opposed the conference. "He said, ‘I don’t have opinion either way, neither for or against," said the source.
This is Rabbi Elyashiv’s modus operandi: He tells a rabbi his position is A. Rabbi leaves Rabbi Elyashiv’s
home happy to hear that Rabbi Elyashiv supports him. Meanwhile, Rabbi Elyashiv immediately tells other rabbis who witnessed this what he "really" meant, a fine parsing of his words, which yield the exact opposite of
what everyone had been led to believe. This is what he in effect did to Rabbi Amar.