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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In general, there are fewer divorces among religious Jews than among secular couples. But in Jerusalem, a predominantly religious city, there was a sharp 10.4 percent rise in divorces in 2006 compared to the previous year.
The jump in the number of Jewish divorces in Jerusalem to 1,471 exceeded the nationwide rise of 3.8% to 9,963, according to data released by the Rabbinic Court Administration Monday.
In an attempt to explain the surprising divorce data, Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag, Jerusalem's marriage registrar, said that more religious couples were getting divorced.
"I see it even among haredim when they come to register for marriage," said Ralbag. "More and more requests to marry are being made by haredi divorcees. Once it was an embarrassment. But things are gradually changing. It is no longer a stigma for a haredi person to be divorced."
Secular Tel Aviv's divorce numbers also rose but at a more moderate rate. Some 3,007 Jews chose to end their marriages in 2006, a 4.4% rise from 2005.
The recent war in Lebanon seemed to have a positive effect on the institution of marriage, according to the Rabbinic Court data. The number of filings for divorce in August and September dropped a dramatic 18% compared to the same period in 2005. Also, the number of divorce filings in Haifa, the hardest hit by the war of the nation's three major cities, fell by 18%.
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, head of the Rabbinic Court's administrative body, said during a press conference in Jerusalem that there had been an improvement in the efficiency of the Rabbinic Courts during 2006. Ben-Dahan said that 75% of all divorce filings were closed within a year, and 99% within two years.
Ben-Dahan also provided preliminary data on divorces that had dragged on for more than two years. He said there were about 1,000 such cases, 20% of which could be defined as situations in which either the husband or the wife refused to acquiesce to the giving of a get, or divorce certificate. Ben-Dahan said that men and women suffered equally from the intransigence of their spouses.
However, Sharon Shenhav, a veteran divorce lawyer and women's rights activist, said in response that the number of women who were refused a get by their husbands was much higher.
"I know plenty of women who don't even bother to file for divorce because they know they will be forced to compromise on visitation, child support and alimony," said Shenhav, who had been the driving force behind organizing a three-day rabbinical conference in Jerusalem to discuss solutions to the aguna problem.
The conference was canceled at the last minute by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar under pressure from a group of haredi rabbis.
"There are also a lot of women who are coerced into accepting a get because they have no other choice. The Rabbinic Court's data does not reflect any of this," added Shenhav, who is also one of 13 members of a state panel responsible for choosing rabbinic judges.
Shenhav and other Orthodox women's rights advocates claim that the problem is not Jewish law. Rather, she said, it is the way Jewish law is applied by some of the more haredi judges.
"Often the way these judges treat women is humiliating, sexist and biased," said Shenhav, who is pushing to appoint more Modern Orthodox judges.â€¢