(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A bill drafted by Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman that would ban men who refuse to give their wives a bill of divorce from residing in the religious sections of state prisons was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday for its first reading in Knesset.
Lipman drafted the bill in consultation with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and in cooperation with Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli-Ben Dahan.
According to Jewish law, a man must voluntarily grant his wife a “get,” or bill of divorce, before she can remarry and have children, while a woman must similarly accept the document before the divorce can be finalized.
However, some men, as well as women, use this law to try and extort favorable conditions in the divorce settlement, such as alimony payments and child custody.
The rabbinical courts are empowered to impose sanctions on so-called recalcitrant husbands, including preventing them from traveling abroad, confiscating drivers’ licenses, and even imprisonment.
But there are cases in which a recalcitrant husband who is imprisoned still refuses to give his wife a bill of divorce.
The proposed legislation is designed to make the terms of imprisonment for religious recalcitrant husbands less comfortable in order to pressure them into giving the bill of divorce.
According to the terms of the bill, such men would not be housed in the religious wings of prisons, where they have access to a synagogue and are in the company of other religious convicts with whom they can study.
In addition, they would be denied telephone privileges to anyone apart from their lawyer and rabbinical adviser.
Lipman believes that the current prison conditions available to recalcitrant husbands are so comfortable that they can continue their regular lifestyle of religious study while incarcerated, and that this reduces the motivation to comply with the rabbinical court’s ruling.
“This is an important step in the long path to achieving zero ‘chained’ women in Israel,” Lipman said following the approval of the bill, using the term “agunot” for women whose husbands refuse to give a bill of divorce.
“The path is still long, but in the meantime this law will provide an answer to the most serious agunot cases who are married to the most obstinate men.
“Preventing such men from being housed in the religious wing will break the spirit of men who take cover under the shelter of religion in order to harm their wives. This law is a small step in reducing the phenomenon of ‘chained’ women in Israel,” the MK said.