55th Tikkun Olam Award to Dr. Susan Weiss
Susan Weiss is an attorney, and PhD sociologist and anthropologist. Long acknowledged as a legal gadfly and innovator, she has been actively working for more than 20 years to create solutions that protect Israeli women from human rights violations stemming from Israel’s entanglement of religion and state. Susan began this work as a private attorney defending divorcing women, intensifying her efforts as the founder and director of Yad L’Isha from 1997-2004. She is currently the executive director of the Jerusalem-based Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ), which she founded in 2004.
At CWJ, Susan initiated the groundbreaking tactic of securing compensatory damage awards in Israeli civil courts for women whose husbands withhold a get ( a Jewish divorce, valid only when granted by the husband of his own free will). Today, CWJ’s “damages” tactic ̶ noted as “game-changing” by the prestigious Ha’aretz news daily – has entered the Israeli mainstream, and Susan has expanded CWJ’s horizons toward righting all rabbinate transgressions that compromise women’s rights.
Susan is also an editor of The Law and its Decisor (a quarterly journal published by Bar Ilan University Law School) and has written extensively about Jewish women and divorce. Her book, Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State: Israel’s Civil War, co-authored with Netty C. Gross-Horowitz, details six case studies that show how Israeli religious courts undermine the civil rights of Jewish women.
In recognition of her essential work, Susan has been honored with a number of awards including the Jewel Bellush Israeli Feminist Award (2013), Israel Bar Association Women in Law Award (2009), and La’Isha magazine’s “Alternative Torch-Bearer” Award (2007). A 2013 profile in Tablet Magazine recognized Susan as “one woman [who] has changed the playing field,” significantly advancing the cause of women in Israel.
These credentials have positioned Susan as a sought-after scholar, speaker and lecturer. Most recently, Susan spent four months as a scholar-in-residence at Brandeis University. With other scholars from around the world, she participated in a semester-long seminar that explored solutions to the agunah problem. During this time, Susan was quoted in a Times of Israel article on conversion reform and wrote about Israel’s state-sanctioned blacklist in The Forward.
The Center for Women’s Justice is a cutting-edge public interest law organization that leads in fostering the basic human rights of Jewish women in Israel to equality, dignity and justice within Jewish law. Through cutting-edge, precedent-setting civil litigation and educational outreach, CWJ has proven effective in addressing injustices perpetuated in the name of religion.