Daughter Topples Orthodox Law Disinheriting Her

Print More

Amy Neustein(WOMENSENEWS)–Anyone who believes religious traditions only oppress women in faraway places should hear my story.

I’ve just won an eight-year legal battle in Brooklyn, N.Y., to keep the house my parents left me. My brother–the first-born son of an Orthodox rabbi–claimed the religious right to evict me.

Last month Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Judge Diana A. Johnson not only ruled the house was legally mine, but awarded me over a half a million dollars in damages from my brother for having padlocked me, just days after my father’s death, out of the family home my parents had deeded to me. For over seven years, while I racked up crushing legal fees, my brother barricaded my childhood home.

My case is not exceptional. Many Orthodox Jewish women have called me since the news of my victory was reported in the New York Post and reprinted in the Brooklyn Eagle and on various blogs. Many said they wish they had fought back as I did. These calls made me livid at those handful of U.S. rabbis and others who share my faith who routinely turn their backs on women.

Ancient Jewish law says the first-born son–the b’khor, in Hebrew–inherits a double share of his parents’ inheritance; daughters get nothing.

First-Born Boasts

When my brother locked the doors against me less than a week after my father died, he boasted that as the first-born son, he could take my old home, even though a deed my parents wrote in 2001 made me the sole owner after their deaths.

Although I ultimately won justice, I have been saddened at how much I’ve had to fight alone.

The expensive law firm I hired assigned an Orthodox Jewish lawyer to my case, who (after I had paid some $75,000 in legal fees) urged me to settle with my brother. My lawyer claimed my "strong personality" would "turn off" a jury. (When the case finally came to trial, there was in fact no jury at all.)

Apparently the idea of a woman demanding her legal rights from an older, celebrated brother really does turn off many Orthodox. Several posters on an Orthodox-run blog, Vos Iz Neias, vilified me for trying to defend my inheritance rights.

"Torah [Jewish law] is clear," wrote one, "daughters get nothing." Another insisted that because I had gone to court to assert my rights I had "turned my back" on my father’s religion and was "somebody who publicly defames the Tora[h]."

My victory goes to Orthodox Jewish women everywhere who share my view that first-born sons have no right to treat their sisters with blatant disregard.

I’ve organized something called Sisters of B’khors (SOB, if you don’t mind the pun) to help other Jewish women stand up to eldest brothers who would rob them of their modern legal rights.

Amy Neustein is co-author of "From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts–and What Can Be Done about It" and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals.

Would you like to Comment but not sure how? Visit our help page at http://www.womensenews.org/help-making-comments-womens-enews-stories.

Would you like to Send Along a Link of This Story?

For more information:

The Court Decision:

Sisters of B’khors:

6 thoughts on “Daughter Topples Orthodox Law Disinheriting Her

  1. It is wonderful that this woman won her case and finally found legal representation that was prepared to follow the laws as they apply to her case. This is an excellent example of the clash between human rights and religious rights, and a typical example of how religious rights often mean men’s rights to control and demean women and to control children. This family continues to choose to live in the USA, not in a part of the world whose laws enshrine the demeaning of women; the men also benefit from the liberal laws to practice the religion of their choice. To not understand their responsibility to examine how their religion may include areas of ignorance from past cultural practices not really related to religion, is reprehensible. They thus, with malice and greed, actively harm their own female family members in times when they have a responsibility and an opportunity to show kindness and care. This brother was not showing religious leadership or familial care.

  2. This is nonsense. The case in question involved Any’s brother AND her sister! So how is this a woman vs. man issue? My understanding was that her brother was the executor of the estate. There was a will which declared that the estate should be divided equally between Amy, her brother and her sister! Where is the religious problem here?

  3. I sent the first comment. After some thought, I perhaps made a too strong statement against male privilege in religions generally using that privilege to demean women. Devout members, male and female, of religions usually are humble people who care about others and who look to their religious teachings to examine their own lives for adequacy and high attainment of moral and ethical expressions of love and respect, and often of helping the disadvantaged. Perhaps that is why it is particularly troubling when religion is used by one of their priests/rabbis to blatantly harm and disadvantage a woman for any reason, including, because she is a woman as in this case.

    • Nonsense, there was nothing wrong with your first comment. Far too many members of various major religions are far from humble; far too few examine their own actions in the light of the teachings they espouse; and far too many are, I believe, drawn to a religion because it confirms and underpins their prejudices. All the Judaeo-Christian religions are pervaded by patriarchal thinking which supports sexism.

  4. Amy Neustein won her case hands down in court, so I suppose it’s inevitable that an ally of her brother (Susan Green) must ignore the facts and the law in an effort to discredit her.

    I handled much of Amy’s legal work, so let the curious note the following:

    1) The house in question was disposed of by deed, not in a will.
    2) It was Amy’s first-born brother who claimed he was entitled to the entire house, exactly as stated in the article.
    3) Besides locking Amy out of her house (the whole house, contrary to Susan Green’s suggestion), the brother (who is executor) never probated the will and has not given Amy one cent of the estate — the one Ms. Green boasts is being divided “equally.”
    4) All of the brother’s claims were roundly rejected in court.

    I think it’s pretty clear where justice lies here (and why Dr. Neustein’s critics have to falsify facts in order to make their “case”). Of course, Amy’s article already made that much clear to anyone with an honest mind.

  5. The picture is NOT an Orthodox family. It should have been captioned “Two Orthodox men and their sons”. That you would not notice the absence of women is hard to understand.