Jewish burial can be denied to compel husbands to grant divorces, says Israeli Rabbinate

Israeli Chief Rabbinate makes precedent-setting ruling, finding that Jewish burial rites can be denied relatives of recalcitrant husbands withhold divorces.

By World Israel News Staff

Rabbinic courts seeking to pressure recalcitrant husbands into granting divorce documents to their estranged wives can prevent relatives of the recalcitrant husband from being buried in Jewish cemeteries, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate ruled recently.

In the precedent-setting decision, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate issued a ruling this week aimed at increasing the sanctions on husbands who have refused to grant their wives a Get, or traditional Jewish divorce document, for years.

While the new ruling cannot be applied in all cases of Get denial, the case does set a precedent for other instances of extreme recalcitrance.

The matter revolves around an American couple, M. and L., and their divorce proceedings, initiated in New York.

For the past 19 years, M. has refused to grant his wife, L., a Jewish divorce, barring her from remarrying. Ironically, M. himself has already remarried, despite refusing to grant his first wife a divorce.

In 2014, M. fraudulently obtained a rarely used special dispensation, known as a “Heter Meah Rabbanim,” allowing him to remarry, despite technically remaining married to his first wife.

The Chief Rabbinate ruled that given the extreme circumstances, M. can be pressured into granting a divorce by denying him the right to bury family members in Jewish cemeteries in Israel.

An attempt was made to do so in 2019, after M.’s mother passed away and was brought to Israel for burial. A rabbinic court in California issued an injunction to prevent the burial until M. agreed to grant a Get.

While this bid failed and M.’s mother was buried in Israel without M. granting a divorce, it inspired L.’s legal team, including Daniel Schwartz and Avraham Ben Tzvi from Yad La’isha Legal Aid Center, to look into future use of similar sanctions to pressure M.

“When I learned about this attempt, we did some legal research and determined that in fact a burial can be prevented in order to obtain a Get, both as a matter of Jewish and Israeli law,” Schwartz said. “We hope that these proceedings will lead finally to the granting of a Get.”

Now, the Chief Rabbinate adopted the position of Chief Rabbi David Lau that in extreme cases, courts may deny funeral rites in order to force the granting of a Get.

Individual courts in Israel, or rabbinic courts in the Diaspora which are recognized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, must approve the new sanctions for them to be imposed in individual cases, the Chief Rabbinate said.

“I am deeply thankful to the Chief Rabbinate for this miraculous decision which proves that I am not alone and that the people of Israel are with me,” L. said, following the ruling.

“I very much hope and pray that this decision will help set me free after nearly two decades even if the only motivation behind these actions are his desire to properly respect his parents and family and to spare them from the potential consequences of this decision. I also hope that this decision will help other women trapped in these situations.”

Pnina Omer, director of Yad La’isha, said “This decision is instrumental in advancing the cause of L. but more broadly for the wider effort to address the challenges surrounding trapped women. Women in these positions need to know that there are halachic options to force the hand of these men, and this decision proves that there are brave and compassionate people who are willing to take the drastic, yet necessary, steps to show that these women will not be forgotten.”

“The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has sent a very clear message today that the Jewish state will not be used as a safe haven by these evil men who wish to manipulate halacha and our government institutions in the most cynical manner in ways that enable them to continue to abuse their wives rather than allow them to go free,” said Ben Tzvi.