Following revelations on Thursday that the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court conditioned a divorce on the agreement that the woman not complain to the police that she had been raped by her ex-husband, another case with similar stipulations has been learned about by The Jerusalem Post.
The woman in question divorced from her husband in 2010. But she felt pressured into signing an agreement whereby she could not file claims with the police or other authorities for monetary claims against her husband subsequent to the divorce and would be fined NIS 400,000 if she did so.
When she signed the clause in 2010, the couple had already been separated for three years, but the divorce negotiations were still ongoing.
In particular, the husband was demanding that proceedings over ancillary issues such as child support and child custody be conducted in the rabbinical court and not the family court, which initially had jurisdiction.
Eventually, an agreement was drafted with several highly problematic clauses but the woman, despairing of getting a reasonable agreement and anxious not to become a long-term victim of divorce refusal, agreed to the deal in order to get her divorce.
According to one critical clause of the agreement, neither the husband nor wife “shall make or try to enforce any claim, application or demand” with the police, the civil courts, or the welfare service unless the other party agreed.
A subsequent clause stipulates that any party violating this agreement would have to pay the other party NIS 400,000.
In 2012, after she requested a restraining order against her ex-husband for stalking and harassing her and her boyfriend, her former husband filed a suit in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court demanding that she pay him the money.
The first hearing of the case took place on Sunday.
Speaking to the Post
, the woman, who requested to remain anonymous, said she had been in a “desperate” situation and was fearful that it would take at least five years before her husband agreed to a settlement she was happy with.
Since they had separated, her husband paid child support payments for their four children for the first year, but then ceased to make any payments whatsoever.
He has no Israeli bank account and gets paid a salary through bank accounts in the US, thereby making it impossible for the authorities in Israel to force him to pay.
“I had my hands tied,” the woman said.
“If I was going to insist on an agreement [that was acceptable to me], I would have been fighting for another five years. He was in no hurry. I was worn down; my parents were worn down.”
“We were at a total stalemate; it was terrible for the children,” she said. “When you’re desperate and you’ve spent so much money dragging it through courts for so much time, then you want to finish it.”
The agreement was authorized by the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, and a document stating that “the Rabbinical Court approves the agreement and gives it validity” was personally signed by the head of the presiding panel of rabbinical judges, Rabbi Avraham Sheinfeld, on October 20, 2010.
The original agreement was written in English since the parties are immigrants from the UK and US, and was authorized with the rabbinical court’s stamp. A translation of the agreement in Hebrew was also formally authorized by the rabbinical court.
Following the divorce, the former husband filed various demands to the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, including one demanding that the woman not be allowed to host her boyfriend at her home, since a clause in the divorce agreement also included a stipulation that she raise the children in a religious environment.
To try and prove that his ex-wife was not living religiously, the man stalked and harassed her and her boyfriend, and would wait around outside her house in order to take pictures of them.
Eventually, the woman filed a request with the police for a restraining order against her husband leading him to file a demand with the rabbinical court for the fine of NIS 400,000 for breaking the divorce agreement.
The woman also filed a request with the police to obtain the child support payments he owed her.
The Center for Women’s Justice, a legal advocacy organization representing the woman, argues that the initial agreement was illegal as it violates the right of access to the courts and legal proceedings.
It requested in the hearing on Sunday that the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court throw out the former husband’s suit, but the court refused this demand and requested that the sides provide all relevant information and arguments regarding the case.
“The problem was that when I was going through my divorce, I was in the most vulnerable situation of my life,” the woman said. “I was dependent on other people, and because of that, I did things that a normal person in their right mind wouldn’t do. Because I was desperate, I thought that this was my ticket out of the marriage, and so I agreed to it.”
She said the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court approved the deal because they were happy to ratify it so that they would not have to make a difficult decision in the case – issuing a ruling requiring the husband to give a divorce.
“They don’t want to make decisions,” she said. “They feel like they are a moral authority, but they don’t take moral responsibly.”
Prof. Aviad Hacohen, a prominent lawyer, legal scholar and president of the Academic Center of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, described such agreements as “totally illegal” and “utterly void.”
“The right of a person to complain to the police or gain access to the courts cannot be made conditional, since they are foundational legal rights. Any condition like this is void,” Hacohen told the Post.
The Rabbinical Courts Administration declined to respond to the allegations that the agreement was illegal, saying only that the full agreement had only been filed in English and that the problematic conditions were not included in the Hebrew version.
Asked why Sheinfeld, the presiding head of the judicial panel hearing the case, explicitly wrote in Hebrew that the agreement was valid and had the imprimatur of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, the court spokesman declined to comment.
The Center for Women’s Justice also pointed out that the agreement had been fully translated into Hebrew and filed to the rabbinical court and that the Hebrew translation had received the authorization of the rabbinical court.
Attorney Nitzan Caspi Shiloni of the CWJ said: “The legislature gave the rabbinical courts the authority to approve agreements, and one of the goals was that the rabbinical judges would check that the agreements are legal, reasonable and commensurate with public policy. We come across many instances in which we find that the husband financially extorts his wife in return for him giving the divorce, and the rabbinical judges encourage this.
“This situation in which a man can make any conditions he feels like is supported by the rabbinical courts in many divorce cases. It would appear that many of these divorce agreements are legally oppressive, since many women sign these agreements out of pressure to obtain their divorce and against the background of the unequal balance of powers [between men and women] in divorce proceedings.”