Bar-On urges sanctions on men who refuse divorce

Bar-On told the rabbinical courts director that dayanim should start utilizing full scope of sanctions law.

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January 18, 2012 23:00
3 minute read.
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Rabbi preforming wedding in Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Knesset State Control Committee chairman Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) called on Wednesday for broader implementation by rabbinical courts of a law that allows dayanim, or rabbinical judges, to impose punitive sanctions on men who refuse to give their wife a bill of divorce.

In a committee hearing, Bar-On told the rabbinical courts director Rabbi Shlomo Daichovsky that dayanim should start utilizing the full scope of the sanctions law and hold hearings on punishments for any man who has not complied with their directive that he give his wife a get (halachic divorce).

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“The problem is that the courts are simply not implementing their power to impose these punitive measures,” Batya Kehana, director of the divorce rights group Mavoi Satum, told The Jerusalem Post. “As long as no fundamental change is made, and as long as the rabbinical courts system remains under the management of the Ministry of Justice, even another 10 [committee] hearings like this won’t help solve the problem.”

In Jewish law, a woman must obtain a get from her husband before she is able to marry again. According to divorce-rights groups, there are hundreds of open cases in Israel in which women are unable to remarry, sometimes for several years.

In 1995, a law was passed to allow the imposition of sanctions against recalcitrant husbands, but according to a new study conducted by the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, and which was presented during Wednesday’s committee hearing, sanctions are used in only 1.5 percent of the cases in which they are applicable. Such measures include preventing a recalcitrant husband from traveling abroad, confiscating his driver’s license, and even imprisonment.

In response, Daichovsky promised to carry forward the proposals and also called on women whose cases have been delayed for a long time to approach him directly to examine the cause of the delay.

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Bar-On, however, was sharply critical of the conduct of the rabbinical courts and their attitude to the plight of women who are denied a get by their husbands.

“The rabbinical courts are not providing a sufficient service to their clients, those who seek their rulings,” Bar-On said flatly.

“Those who turn to the courts have nowhere else to go, but there are hundreds of [divorce] cases open which are just not being dealt with. The courts aren’t providing even the most minimal of services.”

He also censured the attitude of the courts in which “issues are raised but never improve.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, a woman whose husband has refused to give her a get for the past two years, highlighted some of the shortcomings of religious divorce proceedings. She said that one panel of judges had heard the evidence she brought showing that her husband had beat her, and after two years a different panel ruled that the couple should try to reconcile. The woman, who requested that her name not be published, is appealing this ruling in the Supreme Rabbinical Court with the assistance of Mavoi Satum.

“The rabbinical courts must make greater use of the halachic authority that the law provides them, including taking steps to impose punitive sanctions on the initiative of the rabbinical courts themselves,” said Prof. Ruth Halperin Kedari, co-author of the Rackman report, during the hearing.

Rabbinical courts are extremely wary about using the sanctions tool because of a concern within Jewish law that if a bill of divorce is issued under duress, it is invalid. If a man issued a get in such circumstances, his wife would, in the eyes of Jewish law, still be married to him, and any future child she has with another man would be considered a mamzer, someone born of an illicit sexual relationship or his descendants.

According to the Rackman report, the average time it takes for a woman to receive a get after proceedings are initiated in a rabbinical court is 642 days.

Between 1995 and 2007, 12.5% of the cases took more than four years before a get was given, and 28.4% took at least two years.

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