Israeli rabbinical court jails woman for refusing to accept husband’s divorce

Woman has refused to accept husband’s divorce document for four years despite escalating rabbinic court sanctions.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

In a precedent setting ruling, an Israeli woman was arrested and imprisoned by police on Sunday on the orders of a rabbinical court for repeatedly refusing to accept a divorce document issued by her husband.

“It is rare. It is the first time that there’s incarceration. But the rabbinic court reached the decision that there was no other option,” Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, the head of the department in the rabbinical courts that deals with divorce refusal, told The Times of Israel.

He added that the woman was sentenced to one year in prison, or until she accepts the divorce.

Civil divorce does not exist in Israel. Issues of personal status, including marriage and divorce are under the jurisdiction of the religious courts of recognized denominations, including Muslim, Druze and various Christian streams.

According to Haaretz, the husband first filed for divorce in 2018 at the Petah Tikvah Rabbinical Court. However, the woman refused to appear for hearings in the rabbinical court or in a family court and an arrest warrant was issued for the woman. When she was brought to court by the police, the woman refused to answer question and was released on bail.

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In the four years since, the woman refused to accept her husband’s divorce despite escalating sanctions, such as taking away her driver’s license and placing a freeze on her bank account.

A court-appointed psychologist who tried to persuade the woman also failed to sway the woman. The psychologist told the court that the woman “refused to accept reality and release her husband.”

Haaretz quoted the head of the rabbinic courts administration, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, saying the court made “every effort not to make use of the tools at its disposal” to force the woman to accept the divorce, but that she has failed to cooperate, “trapping her husband in a marriage that exists on paper only.”

The Times of Israel reported that the couple has two daughters, ages 13 and 16 who are in the father’s custody. The family’s name was not disclosed to protect their privacy.

In situations of Jewish divorce-refusal, it’s more common for husbands to be the recalcitrant party.

In Jewish law, a woman whose husband refuses to give a bill of divorce called a get has the unfortunate status of an agunah, or “chained.” An agunah can only obtain her freedom to remarry with a get or the death of her husband. Some men have refused to give their wives a get, either out of spite or in the hope of extorting a more favorable divorce settlement.

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If a wife refuses to accept a divorce, Jewish law allows the man who is technically still married to remarry in an uncommon process known has “heter me’ah rabbanim,” which requires the agreement of 100 rabbis. However, the husband testified that this was not an option for him.

“Not a lot of women want to marry a man who’s still married,” Rabbi Maimon told the Times.

Israeli rabbinical courts have been taking stronger stands against recalcitrant husbands in recent years.

In one case, an agunah of 16 years received her divorce after the rabbinical courts as well as the High Court of Justice ruled in the woman’s favor. The woman’s father-in-law, who was deemed a key obstruction to the divorce, was fined and barred from leaving Israel until the divorce was settled.

In another case, a Jerusalem rabbinical court issued a landmark ruling that a lawyer who prevents the giving of a get or harms divorce proceedings could be sanctioned. In that case, a man who was preparing to divorce his wife told the rabbinical court his attorney had advised him to withhold the get for a better financial settlement.

And in April, a rabbinical court ruled that a recalcitrant husband who recently divorced his wife was now considered married while his wife was considered divorced. The ruling was in response to statements made by the husband disparaging the court and claiming the divorce he had given his wife was not valid.

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