2014 Conference

Workshop on Religious Law in Civil Courts

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Women's Studies Research Center, Epstein Building
515 South Street, Waltham, MA 02454

This workshop focuses on the role of religious law and tribunals in the U.S. in both family law and criminal law settings. We will explore the complexity of women’s legal lives and the ways in which policy might help them negotiate this pluralist legal horizon to their best advantage.

This event is co-sponsored by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.  The Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law is funded by a generous gift from the Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel Philanthropic Fund.

This workshop is part of a collaboration between Brandeis University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, Gender, Religion and Equality in Public Life: Perspectives from the United States and the United Kingdom, supported by a grant from the British Council, Bridging Voices Program.


8:30 a.m. Breakfast

9:00 a.m. Introduction
Lisa Fishbayn Joffe

9:15 a.m. Advocacy for Women in Religious Courts
Hauwa Ibrahim, Harvard Divinity School, lawyer in shariah courts, “Practicing Shariah Law”
Esther Macner, practitioner in civil courts and Hassidic batei din in the US, “What Powers, If Any, are Assigned to Rabbinic Courts in American Civil Law?”
Rivkah Lubitch, GCRL visiting research associate and advocate in Israeli rabbinical courts, “The Clash Between Civil and Religious Courts in Israel over the Get”

11:00 a.m. The Interweaving of Civil and Religious Law in Processing Family Law Disputes
Aryeh Klapper, Centre for Modern Torah Leadership and Boston Beit Din, “Problems of Jurisdiction at the Intersection of Jewish and Civil Law”
Anne Saris, Université du Québec à Montréal, “What Do Montreal Imams Tell Us about Family Law?”
Celene Ayat Lizzio, Hebrew College and Andover Newton Theological School, “Civil Legislation and Shariah Paths in America: Epistemic Dissonance and Untraversable Divides or Integration and Workable Solutions?”

12:30 p.m. Lunch

1:30 p.m. Religious Law, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
Hella Winston, senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, "Child Sexual Abuse in the Ultra-Orthodox Community"
Steven Resnicoff, DePaul University, “The Sexual Abuse of Children:  The Interrelationship Between Mandatory Reporting Laws and Jewish Law”
Aisha Rahman, Executive Director, Karamah-Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, “An Islamic Perspective on Addressing Domestic Violence”

3:00 p.m. Closing Remarks
Lisa Fishbayn Joffe


Hauwa Ibrahim

Hauwa Ibrahim’s journey of accidental legal education started 20 years ago. She was a prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice, in Northern Nigeria for eight years. In October 1996, she established the first indigenous female legal firm in the State of Bauchi, where she served as defense counsel until 2008 when she came to Harvard University where she currently teaches and conducts research. Ibrahim has defended over 100 Shariah related cases both in the courtroom and prisons.  Her professional accomplishments also include election as the first female National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2000 and authorship of the first draft of the constitution for the Pan African Lawyers Union in 2002, She has consulted for the United Nations Development Program, the European Union’s Commission, ambassadors in Nigeria and Lawyers without Borders. In 2005, she won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize. Most recently, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan appointed her to the 17-person Presidential Committee assembled to investigate the mass kidnapping of girls from a Nigerian school.

Esther Macner

Attorney Esther Macner is founder and director of Get Jewish Divorce Justice in Los Angeles, dedicated to the prevention of abuse in the Jewish divorce process through education, advocacy and individual counseling. Ms. Macner, a New York trial attorney, divorce mediator and former assistant district attorney, specializes in family law, domestic violence and rabbinic court representation. She has presented continuing legal education (CLE) seminars on rabbinic courts, divorce law, constitutionality of the New York get laws and Jewish arbitration agreements, in New York, New Jersey and California.  With fluency in Yiddish, Hebrew and rabbinic texts, she is one of a handful of women who practice before rabbinic courts. She received her J.D. from Cardozo Law, her M.A. from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and her B.A. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Rivkah Lubitch

Rivkah Lubitch has a B.Ed. from the Jerusalem College for Women, an M.A. in Jewish History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a diploma as a Rabbinic Court Advocate (Toenet Rabbanit). She is one of the leading activists on the agunot issue in Israel and presently serves on the board of the Center for Women's Justice (CWJ). Lubitch is research associate at Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and an active columnist in Israel, writing a weekly column in YNet (internet edition of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot) and NRG (internet edition of the daily press Maariv). She successfully handled a case widely known as "the decision to void Rabbi Drukman's conversions" and actively challenges issues relating to mamzerut.  Rivkah has worked as a rabbinic advocate at Yad L'Isha,  and been active in ICAR’s women's coalition for agunot. She is a founder of Bet Midrash Niggun Nashim at Oranim, and is a key speaker in all the Kolech conferences. Lubitch has established and led various women's groups such as a multi-denominational women's Rosh Chodesh group in Haifa.

Aryeh Klapper

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper is Dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership and Rosh Beit Midrash. He is an instructor of rabbinics and medical ethics at  Gann Academy, and a member of the Boston Beit Din.  He previously served as Orthodox Adviser and associate director for education at Harvard Hillel and as Talmud curriculum chair at Maimonides High School. Rabbi Klapper has published in Tradition, Meorot, Dinei Yisrael, Beit Yitzchak and other journals and presented at numerous academic and community conferences.  He is a popular lecturer who is consulted internationally on issues of Jewish law and whose work is cited regularly by both academic and traditional scholars.

Anne Saris

Anne Saris is a law professor at Université du Québec à Montreal. She holds a DCL from McGill law faculty. She is interested by questions of internormativity, most notably in civil rights law and family law.  She has authored articles with Samia Amor and Jean-Mathieu Potvin on Canadian Muslims and their interactions with civil and religious actors in Montreal, with Sophie Daoust on the impact of the dangerosity presumption inherent in polygamy in Canada (Bountiful Case), and with Gaële Gidrol-Mistral on the construction in civil law of the embryo by means of the concept of ‘infans conceptus’, as well as on the comparison of civil and feminist legal theories regarding frozen embryo.  Saris has also authored an article on the issues raised by the burqa in Canada, and is interested in the reglementation of religious activities by municipalities.

Celene Ayat Lizzio

Celene Ayat Lizzio is recognized as a leading representative of the new generation of American Muslim thinkers and leaders. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Divinity School, she is a Ph.D candidate at Brandeis University in Arab and Islamic civilizations. She has written over 20 articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries exploring Muslim family law, Muslim feminist theology and women’s religious leadership, among other topics. Her current research explores ritual, sacred healing, and wellness practices in Shadhiliyya Sufi communities in North America. Lizzio is also lecturer on Islam, gender, and interfaith relations at Merrimack College, where she serves as an advisor to the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations and a fellow of the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education at Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College.  She has published widely and has been recognized as a Harvard Presidential Scholar and a fellow in Religion, Diplomacy and International Relations at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, among other distinctions.

Hella Winston

Hella Winston is an independent journalist whose primary focus is on issues of suspected social injustices within some Orthodox Jewish communities and political systems, most notably Brooklyn, New York, within which they reside. Her investigations are published by The New York Jewish Week. The American Jewish Press Association awarded her first place in the category of Excellence in News Reporting for “In Lakewood Abuse Cases: A Parallel System of Justice,” and second place for “Tragedy in Borough Park Puts Shomrim Under Scrutiny.” The Journalism Center on Children and Families honored her with a 2012 Casey Medal honorable mention for these articles and others in the series “Child Sexual Abuse in the Ultra-Orthodox Community.” She is the author of the book “Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels” (Beacon Press, 2005). Winston’s appointment is through the Schuster Institute Fund for Investigative Journalism Fellowship.

Steven Resnicoff

Steven H. Resnicoff is a professor at DePaul University College of Law, where he has received numerous awards for his teaching and scholarship, and co-director of its Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies (JLJS). Former chair of the Association of American Law School’s Section on Jewish Law and chair of the executive board of the Jewish Law Association, Resnicoff earned a B.A. at Princeton (Phi Beta Kappa) a J.D. at Yale, and received advanced rabbinic ordination (yoreh yoreh yadin yadin) from the late sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein of blessed memory. He is the author or co-author of five books, including Understanding Jewish Law, published by LexisNexis, and more than 50 articles and book chapters. Much of his work focuses on the interrelationships between Jewish and secular legal systems, and he also teaches in the doctoral program at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Leadership and Learning in Chicago. An internationally known scholar and lecturer, Professor Resnicoff’s expertise is in the areas of bankruptcy, commercial paper, contracts and professional responsibility.

Aisha Rahman

Attorney Aisha Rahman is executive director of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights and also serves as the head of the organization’s Family Law Division.
She received her higher education at Emory University and The University of Tennessee College of Law, where she was a staff editor of the Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy and headed the Muslim Law Student Association. Ms. Rahman came to KARAMAH from Legal Aid of East Tennessee where she was a staff attorney litigating cases on domestic violence. In her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, Ms. Rahman chaired the Social Justice Committee of the Shura (consultative council) at the Muslim Community of Knoxville, an important leadership position.

Please RSVP to hbi@brandeis.edu
Questions: hbi@brandeis.edu or 781-736-3116