AG backs ‘Agunah of Safed’ against Supreme Rabbinical Court

AG: allowing third party appeal "would have far reaching consequences of the utmost severity on all divorces issued by the rabbinical courts."

The dayanim of the new Supreme Rabbinical Court met with the chief of the court Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (photo credit: COURTESY SPOKESPERSON OF THE RABBINICAL COURTS)
The dayanim of the new Supreme Rabbinical Court met with the chief of the court Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
The High Court of Justice issued an injunction on Wednesday restraining the Supreme Rabbinical Court from hearing a third-party appeal that threatened to annul the divorce of a woman from her coma-bound husband.
High Court justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Melcer and Yoram Danziger heard a petition from the women’s-rights group Mavoi Satum against the Supreme Rabbinical Court intervention on Wednesday morning and expressed deep skepticism during the hearing over the decision by the Supreme Rabbinical Court to hear a third-party appeal.
The justices also expressed concern with the notion that the divorce might be overturned by the Supreme Rabbinical Court, returning the woman in question to her “chained” status, and said that if the rabbinical court does not like the original ruling, there are other ways to oppose any precedent it might have set.
A final ruling on the matter by the court will be made in 21 days.
The case involves a 34-year-old woman whose husband sustained severe injuries in a motorcycle accident nine years ago, from which he fell into a coma and has never recovered.
In 2014, the Safed Rabbinical Court issued a unique and innovative ruling, granting a bill of divorce on behalf of the husband, on the assumption that he would have agreed if he were able, thereby freeing the woman from her marriage.
Senior haredi rabbis furiously denounced the ruling, including Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, and in an unprecedented step, the Supreme Rabbinical Court declared in November that it would review the case before a full 11-judge panel, following an appeal by a third party who has no connection to the case and is not related to either the woman or her former husband in any way.
The Mavoi Satum organization, which represents the woman, petitioned the High Court, claiming the Supreme Rabbinical Court has no right to hear an appeal from a third party with no standing in the case. The organization argued in addition that allowing a third-party appeal would set a worrying precedent in which any divorce ruling ever issued could be appealed and cast into doubt.
Mavoi Satum director Batya Kahana- Dror expressed satisfaction with the ruling, and the hope that it would be made permanent in the court’s final decision.
“The High Court understood the absurdity of someone with no connection to the case appealing a process that is so personal and private,” Kahana-Dror said. “I very much hope that the woman will be able to return to normal life, establish a family and continue to live her life.”
Earlier, several dozen activists protested outside the High Court against the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s intervention, including representatives from some of the prominent women’s rights groups.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie said that the attempt of the Supreme Rabbinical Court to hear the third-party appeal was extremely damaging to Jewish life in Israel and in the Diaspora, and would deter people from marrying in a religious ceremony.
“We are here for all Jewish women, not just those in Israel but whoever married in a religious ceremony and for those who will get married in a religious ceremony,” Lavie told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s unthinkable that the religious bureaucracy of the chief rabbi is trying to annul a courageous decision of the rabbinical judge from Safed, who understood the tough situation in front of him and the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, and who didn’t flee from this responsibility and saw a woman married to a man in a vegetative state – for whom all medical opinions said he would not wake from this state – and understood the woman’s situation and wanted to give her a life.
“This behavior weakens the standing of the Jewish religion and religious marriage, and it’s no wonder that many young people are choosing to get married outside of the rabbinate.”