In unprecedented ruling, court convicts man for refusing divorce to wife

Tzivya Gorodetsky was married to her husband for nine years and had four children with him before eventually requesting a divorce in 1995 due to his violent and abusive behavior toward her.

April 9, 2019 14:31
2 minute read.
File photo: Divorce.

File photo: Divorce.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Monday, for the first time, convicted a man on criminal charges for refusing to grant his wife a get (Jewish divorce document).  The man, Meir Gorodetsky, has been refusing his wife a get since the mid-1990s.

According to a statement released by the court, the maximum sentence for this offense is four years in prison. It is unlikely that the perpetrator will receive the maximum sentence, as this case would then set a precedent for future cases.

Tzivya Gorodetsky was married to her husband for nine years and had four children with him, before eventually requesting a divorce in 1995 due to his violent and abusive behavior toward her. This included beating her while she was pregnant so that she miscarried and throwing acid on her.

Her husband steadfastly refused to grant a bill of divorce even after being ordered to do so by the State Rabbinical Court. This led the court to eventually jail him, which continued on and off for 19 years.

The court said there was nothing more they could do to obtain the divorce, aside from placing him under harsher conditions similar to those placed on prisoners who have committed sexual offenses and murder – which it did. The court arguing that Jewish law prohibits the annulment of a marriage by outside parties, even in extreme circumstances. At various points, the recalcitrant husband was even placed in solitary confinement.

Ultimately, Tzivya was freed from her marriage by a private, ad hoc Orthodox rabbinical court headed by respected Orthodox rabbi and talmudist Rabbi Daniel Sperber. She then sought to drop the charges against her husband and free him, but the State Attorney’s Office said that it had already begun criminal proceedings against him for divorce refusal.

Criminal prosecution of severe cases of such refusal was made possible in 2016 by the State’s Attorney’s Office, but only one case had been pursued until now.

While the conviction is unprecedented, not everyone is celebrating it as a victory.

“The court’s decision is being presented as a breakthrough for women who are denied a divorce, but it is not,” the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ), who dealt with Gorodetsky’s case, said in a statement. “The imprisonment of get refusers has proven ineffective in most cases. There are halachic and civil ways to end a marriage without the consent of the husband, and we regret that the Rabbinical Courts and the State of Israel do not adopt them.”

CWJ has also pointed out that since the man is now in jail for a criminal conviction, he has even less incentive to grant his wife a divorce, because he will still remain in prison.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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