Mavoi Satum (“Dead End”) announced on Thursday that the High Court of Justice
struck down part of an order of the Rabbinical High Court, the result of which
is that a husband refusing to grant his wife a divorce will remain in prison
until the court hears a full petition filed by the wife.
Jewish law, which governs the country’s divorce law, a Jewish woman may not
remarry unless her husband consents to divorce her, even if he is refusing in
contempt of court.
The Rabbinical High Court decision that was struck
down was issued by a three-rabbinical-judge panel, including Sephardi Chief
Rabbi Shlomo Amar, and was about to lead to the release of the husband, whom the
court itself had imprisoned.
The Rabbinical High Court’s order had
conditioned keeping the husband in jail for refusing to give the wife a divorce
on her dropping a separate action against him.
The High Court’s order was
technically an interim order to keep the status quo, at least until it can
review the full facts and legal issues of the case. The interim order struck any
condition that could lead to the husband’s imminent release and upheld the
portion of the Rabbinical High Court’s order that provided for keeping the
husband in prison for at least another six months.
The wife has been
seeking a divorce since 2002. Since 2006, the husband had been obligated by the
rabbinical courts to grant his wife a divorce.
Between 2006 and October
2012, the Rabbinical High Court increased the sanctions against the husband, to
try to convince him to grant his wife a divorce.
In October 2012, the
Rabbinical High Court finally ordered the husband imprisoned, having found that
his refusal was unwavering, and that the most harsh sanction it could impose was
But on December 18, 2012, the Rabbinical High Court
conditioned the husband’s continued imprisonment on the wife’s permanently
dismissing a separate family court action for damages against the
The wife had already withdrawn the separate damages action, so
no action was actually pending at the time.
However, an action which is
withdrawn, as opposed to an action which is permanently dismissed, can be
The Rabbinical High Court essentially demanded that the
wife refile her action with a request that it be permanently dismissed, so that
she would never be able to refile it.
The wife’s attorney, Hadas
Grossman, had already agreed to have the action dismissed permanently, on
condition that the husband grant a divorce.
But the Rabbinical High Court
denied this compromise, declaring that permanent dismissal of the action was a
precondition to any continuing of the husband’s imprisonment and would not be
linked to the granting of a divorce itself.
In a January 8, 2013
decision, the Rabbinical High Court specifically cited the violation of its
exclusive authority over measures used to compel a refusing husband to give a
divorce as the basis of its readiness to release the husband if the wife did not
dismiss the separate action, even though the court, on the merits of the case,
was ready to continue his imprisonment.
The wife’s petition to the High
Court, filed on her behalf by Mavoi Satum, was filed on an emergency basis to
prevent the husband’s imminent release, which would have taken place on
Mavoi Satum director-general, attorney Batya Kahana Dror, said,
“We are happy that we succeeded in stopping the unethical and unconstitutional
decision of the Rabbinical High Court to free a divorce refuser from prison, the
goal of the decision of which was to conduct a jurisdictional battle between the
venues [the rabbinical and family court venues] on the backs of the women” whose
requests for a divorce are being refused.
Another of the wife’s
attorneys, Gali Etzion of Na’amat, said prior to the ruling that “the High Court
cannot leave standing the Rabbinical High Court’s decision which harms the
fundamental rights of women in Israel, the right to access to [family] courts,
the right to ownership and the right to receive compensation for being
Yifat Biton from the Temura Center implied that the decision by
the Rabbinical High Court had been a power grab, unrelated to the wife’s
situation, to roll back the tools of the family courts to pressure men refusing
to give a divorce, so that such tools would remain solely within the power of
the rabbinical courts.
Mavoi Satum assists women whose husbands refuse to
give them a divorce with legal and other proceedings on the issue.