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Sentenced to Marriage

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Amit Breuer
Directed by Anat Zuria
VHS, color, 65 min.
College - Adult
Jewish Studies, Human Rights, Law, Sociology, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Triveni Kuchi, Social Sciences/Instructional Services Librarian, Rutgers University Libraries

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 1/12/2006

Mekudeshet - Sentenced to Marriage, directed by Anat Zuria, is a rare insight into the life of Jewish women seeking divorce under the fundamentalist orthodox Jewish law. The film begins with a quote from ancient legal text translated into English - "A woman is bought in three ways and buys herself in 2 ways. She is bought with money, with wit and with intercourse and buys herself with divorce and with the death of the husband." A scene of a happy bride in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony takes us away from this solemn note, but not for long. The exchanging of the wedding wows "With this ring I consecrate thee according to the religion of Moses and Israel" sounds almost chilling and the obscured face of the bridegroom (kept blurred deliberately) instantly signals the eventuality of what is to come.

Tamara, Michelle and Rachel - three young married women are the main characters whose travails for obtaining divorce within the orthodox Jewish legal system are intriguingly woven into this 65 minutes documentary. These women - modern, educated and employed, have been alone, taking care of their children without the help or support of a husband. Their husbands live with other women, do not pay child support, and also have children outside of the marriage. All of these women have filed for a divorce in the rabbinical court where their cases are presented by women rabbinical pleaders. Under Jewish law women who have filed for the divorce, have no secular rights to divorce (since in Israel the State and Religion are not separate), even though each of their cases present strong grounds for divorce due to spousal abandonment, physical and mental abuse and child endangerment. According to the orthodox Jewish law, a divorce is entirely up to the husband to grant it to the wife. The wives are therefore not only exposed to the mercy and whims of the husband to give them a divorce, but have to also wait many years in limbo before any decisions are made. In addition to protecting the unfair actions of the husband, the orthodox Jewish law prevents the wife from carrying on with her own life and well-being. It allows Jewish men to have extra marital affairs as well as children outside of the marriage, but the woman is bound to the marriage and cannot have relationships with any other man while she is still married. Indeed as the title of the film indicates the women are "sentenced to marriage." This shocking reality in modern day Israel has a bizarre and unreal quality, which is narrated very effectively by juxtaposing sound recordings, footage from the rabbinical court halls, the disquietingly calm preparations of the rabbinical pleaders and the anguish of the waiting wives.