In a significant and rare ruling, the Haifa Rabbinical Court voided the marriage of Oded Guez, a well-known divorce refuser, freeing his wife after more than four years as an agunah (a woman who is “chained” to her marriage).
The ruling follows a groundbreaking ruling earlier this month by a private rabbinical court annulling the marriage of a woman who was an agunah for 23 years, although that was a more complex and controversial case and the ruling was more revolutionary from the standpoint of Jewish law.
The Haifa Rabbinical Court sealed the ruling and details of the decision and the reasoning in Jewish law behind it will not be made known.
The Guez case became notorious after rabbinical court rulings were issued for him to be publicly shamed and ostracized because of his divorce recalcitrance, and his continued defiance of the court and insistence that nothing would induce him to grant his wife a divorce.
Voiding a marriage is a rarely used tool by the state rabbinical courts, which finds fault with the original marriage ceremony or with another aspect of the wedding, which can then be used to retroactively void the marriage.
The court has, however, sealed its ruling and prohibited its publication, so exact details of the decision will not be known.
In the notification about the ruling, the court said specifically that the marriage had been voided, in a decision made by a two to one majority of the three-man panel.
There have been just a handful of rulings voiding marriages in recent years on the basis that one of the two witnesses was not religiously observant, particularly of Shabbat, something which invalidates a witness in Jewish law.
Guez was instructed by the Haifa rabbinical court to grant his wife a bill of divorce four years ago, but persistently refused.
The court subsequently issued a writ of social excommunication against Guez, leading Bar Ilan University to fire him, while the court then issued an order to publicly shame him as a means of exerting further pressure on him to grant the divorce.
Guez then fled the country in 2016 using a false passport to escape further sanctions, first to Cyprus, then to Ukraine, the UK, and finally Belgium, and has remained there ever since.
He was arrested in Belgium in July 2016, but efforts to extradite him back to Israel on criminal charges of using a fake passport have so far failed.
According to the Rabbinical Courts Administration, it was then that the Haifa Rabbinical Court, in a panel headed by Rabbi Avraham Meir Shalush along with Rabbis Daniel Edri and Shmuel Avraham Hazan began hearings about the possibility of invalidating the marriage.
The Rabbinical Courts Administration said in a statement that “the significance of the ruling is that the status of the woman is that of a single woman who was never married,” adding that “the great rabbis who deal in this field supported the ruling.”
Rabbinical Courts Administration director Rabbi David Malka welcomed the end of the Guez case.
“This ruling proves again that the rabbinical courts take every measure available to them, operative and halachic, and do not leave any stone unturned in their great efforts to bring relief to agunot in the State of Israel,” said Malka.
Batya Kehana Dror, director of the Mavoi Satum divorce rights organization, praised Shalush “for his halachic courage,” and said the case proved that when there is sufficient will from the rabbinical judges a solution commensurate with Jewish law can be found.
“There is no reason to keep women for years as agunot or divorce refusees. There are solutions and the rabbinical courts know how to implement them when it lines up with their interests,” she continued critically, arguing that the decision came about because the court was embarrassed the case.
She added that Mavoi Satum recently had an agunah case before the Haifa Rabbinical Court in which the organization requested the marriage be voided owing to the fact that one of the witnesses was a convicted pedophile at the time of the wedding.
Despite this, the rabbinical court panel, which was headed by Edri, refused the request, and the case is now being appealed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem.
The Center for Women’s Justice, which established the private rabbinical court which freed the 23-year agunah, said that the Haifa court’s ruling would “paved the way for creative application of halacha that bypasses the husband’s will in difficult agunah cases.”
The organization added that although it applauded the ruling, the rabbinical court had created the situation in the first place by refusing to use “the halachic tools at their disposal from the outset.”
The Rackman Center at Bar-Ilan University, which represents Guez’s ex-wife in the civil family court praised the rabbinical court “for freeing Ms G from her torturous marriage, expressing its hope that this brave ruling will present the way forward for many more to come in other hard cases of chained women.”
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