A new law is being drafted by Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman that will attempt to solve some of the most egregious cases of men refusing to give their wives a bill of divorce.
According to Jewish law, a man must voluntarily grant his wife a get (Jewish divorce document), before she can remarry and have children, while a woman must accept the document before the divorce can be finalized.
However, some men and women use this ability to try and extort favorable conditions in the divorce settlement, such as alimony payments, child custody and similar issues resulting from divorce.
The rabbinic courts are empowered to impose various sanctions on recalcitrant husbands, including preventing him from traveling abroad, confiscating his driver’s license and even imprisonment.
But there are cases in which a recalcitrant husband who is imprisoned still refuses to give his wife a bill of divorce.
According to the MK there are as many as 20 such cases right now.
The MK says that, in consultation with Chief Rabbi David Lau, he devised a draft law that would make the terms of their imprisonment less comfortable and could help pressure them into giving the bill of divorce.
According to the terms of the legislation, such men would no longer be entitled to strictly supervised kosher food, as they are currently, and would prevent them from being housed in the religious wings of prisons, where they have access to a synagogue and are in the company of other religious convicts. In addition they would be denied telephone privileges to anyone apart from their lawyer and rabbinic adviser.
Lipman believes that the current prison conditions available to recalcitrant husbands are so comfortable that they can virtually continue their regular lifestyle of religious study while incarcerated, and that this reduces the motivation to comply with the rabbinical court’s ruling.
The MK says that legal problems with denying someone a religiously mandated diet can be overcome by arguing that someone who refuses to adhere to the ruling of a rabbinical court cannot be defined as religious and is therefore not entitled to the strictly supervised food he demands.
“Living in a Jewish state with a Jewish government we have the ability to pressure husbands to give their wives a get within the framework of Jewish law,” Lipman told The Jerusalem Post.
“I hope to use my MK hat and my rabbi hat to make sure we free all people who are ‘chained’ to their marriages and prevent future aguna [woman who is ‘chained’ to her marriage] problems,” he said.
Batya Kehana-Dror, the director of the Mavoi Satum women’s rights group, said the law was welcome but that it would only help a small number of people and would not help if the husband was not religious.
The bigger problem, she said, was that not enough men who refuse to give a get once ordered to do so are sentenced to prison by the rabbinical courts.
Mavoi Satum is currently working on a bill, together with several MKS, that would require rabbinical courts to hold a hearing about giving a man a prison sentence if after six months he still refuses to give the bill of divorce.
Lipman, together with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, is also working on legislation to deal with the broader issue.