Decline in Jewish divorces due to economic downturn

However, many wives still not granted religious divorce writ by their husbands.

By MATTHEW WAGNER
January 27, 2010 05:55
Decline in Jewish divorces due to economic downturn

divorce 63. (photo credit: )

The economic downturn resulted in a slight fall in the number of Israeli Jews who divorced in 2009 compared to the previous year, the Rabbinic Court administration announced Tuesday.

A total of 9,986 couples divorced in 2009 compared to 10,225 in 2008, a 2.3 percent reduction.

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Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, director-general of the rabbinic court administration said that the reduction in divorces was probably due to the worsening economic situation, which forced some couples to postpone the costly endeavor of separation.

In most large cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Rishon Lezion there was a fall of between 3% and 7% in the number of divorces.

But there were exceptions. In Jerusalem there was a 4.2% rise to 1,479 and in Beersheba there was a 8.5% rise to 767. The single highest increase was in Tiberias with a 27% rise to 184.

Since 2003, the earliest year in which data was made available, there has been a gradual rise in the number of divorces, with occasional regressions, like in 2009. In 2003 9,368 couples got divorced.

The vast majority of divorce proceedings were completed within a year, either through divorce or reconciliation, with just 10% of the cases dragging on for longer than that. And within two years 99% of the cases were closed.

The rabbinical courts make a distinction between two different situations in which a woman was forced to remain married against her will because of the recalcitrance of her husband.

There were approximately 180 cases in which a husband refused to give his wife a divorce writ (get) but had not been threatened with sanctions by the rabbinical court.

The rabbinical court noted that there was about the same number of women who refused to
cooperate with the divorce proceedings, which forced their husbands to remain married against their will.

In addition, there were about 20 women defined as agunot or "chained" women whose husbands could not be located or were in prison for refusing to acquiesce to giving a get despite a rabbinical court ruling. One woman has been waiting for over 20 years, the rabbinic court spokeswoman said.

Only under certain extreme cases can the rabbinic court use coercion to force the husband to provide a get to his wife.

According to Jewish law, both the husband and the wife must agree to a divorce in order to finalize it. However, while the obligation to obtain the husband's acquiescence is based on biblical sources, the need for the wife's cooperation is a later legal development instituted by rabbis in the Middle Ages. Therefore, it can be breached in certain situations.

In Israel, all marriages and divorces of Jewish citizens are performed in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law. If a rabbinic court determines that a husband is obligated by Jewish law to divorce his wife, because of proven infidelity for instance, sanctions can be used to force the husband to provide a divorce writ.

In 2009, the rabbinic courts concluded the cases of 162 women unable to divorce due to recalcitrant husbands.

Some of the cases were closed after private investigators managed to track down the husband either in Israel or abroad. In 2009 there were 44 cases in which various sanctions were used against husbands to force them to agree to give their wives a get.

Some of the methods normally used to force the husband to give a get include freezing the husband's checking accounts, preventing him from leaving Israel, preventing him from being elected to a public office, revoking his drivers' license, imprisonment and worsening the conditions of inmates already imprisoned.

An additional 53 new cases were added to the total number of women unable to obtain a divorce due to recalcitrant husbands.

Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, the director of Mavoi Satum, an organization that helps women whose recalcitrant husbands refuse to give a get, rejected the notion that there were just 180 women. "There are probably thousands of women who are unable to divorce," said Kahana-Dror. "The problem is that we can't make a clear estimate."

According to Kahana-Dror, many women attempt to divorce but give up when they are unable to convince the rabbinical court to obligate the husband to give a get. Only in extreme cases, for instance when it can be proved that the husband beats his wife or is a criminal, do the rabbinical courts obligate husbands to give a get. As a result, wives open a divorce file, fail to get divorced because they cannot prove that their husband is a criminal and stop trying. All files that have no activity for six months or more are closed automatically.

Kahana-Dror, quoting figures gathered by the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status in the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, said that between 1995 and 2009 there were 4,000 divorce files that were closed due to inactivity. She added that the number of cases in which sanctions were taken against husbands - 44 - was a sharp drop compared to previous years. "The ombudsman has already issued a report recommending that the rabbinical courts use sanctions more."

BatSheva Sherman-Shani, director of Yad L'Isha, another organization that aids women, said that the claim that there were 180 men who were victims of their wives recalcitrance was false. "In many cases men hurry to open a file in the rabbinic court because they know they have a better chance of winning there than in the family courts," said Sherman-Shani. "But this is just a tactic. They have no intention of divorcing. Nevertheless, when the rabbinic courts count the number of men who are unable to divorce they do it by checking how many of the men who opened a divorce file are still married. These men are erroneously considered victims of recalcitrant wives."


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