A bill designed to expedite the process of sanctioning husbands who refuse to give their wives a get, or bill of divorce, passed into law Monday night in the Knesset plenum, which approved its second and third readings.
The new law stipulates that once a rabbinical court has ruled that the husband must give his wife a get, he must do so within 45 days. If he refuses, the court is obliged to hold a hearing within another 45 days to discuss imposing punitive sanctions, which can include preventing him from traveling abroad, confiscating his driver’s license, and even imprisonment.
If the court decides to impose sanctions, there must be a follow- up hearing within 90 days to see if the divorce has been granted – and if not, to decide whether or not to apply more stringent sanctions.
If the first hearing does not result in sanctions, there must be a new hearing within 45 days to reexamine whether to level sanctions. The rabbinical court will have to hold continual hearings on the case according to this timetable until the man gives the get.
According to Jewish law, a divorce can only take effect if a husband willingly gives his wife a get. If he refuses, she cannot remarry, and any children she has with another man are considered mamzerim – unable to marry Jews who do not also fall within the narrow parameters of that status.
If a man gives a get under duress, it is invalid according to Jewish law, and children of a woman who remarries under such circumstances are considered mamzerim.
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), one of the primary sponsors of the law, called it a “real revolution that will bring about a significant reduction in the phenomenon of men refusing to give their wives a bill of divorce.”
According to Schneller, the law means that for the first time, the rabbinical courts will have to scrutinize and follow every case of a man refusing to give his wife a divorce until he finally does so.
Some women’s rights groups, however, have opposed the bill, arguing that the new law actually damages women’s rights.
According to these groups, the law as it stood stipulated that a rabbinical court should hold a hearing to impose sanctions within 30 days of the ruling that the husband must give a divorce. However, the rabbinical courts interpreted the law to mean that it was within their discretion to decide whether to hold such a hearing, and to do so after – not within – 30 days.
Bat-Sheva Sherman-Shani, director of the Yad L’Isha women’s rights group, said that the new law effectively tripled the time it would take for the court to convene a hearing. She added that the repeated hearings the new law requires would actually weaken the position of these “chained women” because it would make them more circumspect about employing alternative methods of pressure on their husbands, for fear that the court would penalize them for circumventing its authority.
As a result, she said, they would be more likely to accede at least to some of the husbands’ demands in return for the divorce.
Schneller, however, denied that the law would have any such effect. Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, he argued that the original law indeed stipulated that a hearing must be held after, not within, 30 days – essentially an unlimited period.
As such, he said, even the rabbinical court hearings on imposing sanctions were rare, let alone the actual implementation of those sanctions.
More importantly, he asserted, the new law requires the husband to give a get within 45 days of the initial ruling, whereas no such requirement existed beforehand.
“The uniqueness and importance of this law is that the court can’t abandon the case until a get is given,” he said.
Batya Kehana Dror, the director of Mavoi Satum – a divorce reform advocacy group that partnered with Schneller in devising the bill – hailed the new law as “an important milestone in the struggle for women’s rights in Israel and for advancing equality between the sexes in matters of marriage and divorce. It will help reduce and even prevent the ongoing abuse and blackmail used against women and put an end to the red tape of the rabbinical courts regarding matters of divorce.”
According to a new study by the Rackman Center, it takes an average of 642 days for a woman to receive a get after proceedings are initiated in a rabbinical court. Between 1995 and 2007, 12.5% of the cases took more than four years to produce a get, and 28.4% took at least two years.
In many cases, the husband withholds the get in order to leverage more favorable terms in the divorce settlement.
According to Mavoi Satum, there are thousands of women in the country whose husbands continue to deny them a divorce.