(photo credit: INIMAGE)
A woman who was denied the right to marry her partner of 10 years due to the exigencies of an obscure aspect of Jewish law has finally been granted the right to wed.
Shlomit Lavi was prevented by the family of her dead husband from remarrying for 13 years, but this year she finally gained their consent to perform a required ceremony – and then the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court ruled she could not marry her partner of 10 years.
On Sunday, however, the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem overturned the regional court’s decision, bringing her 10-year quest to gain the right to marry her partner to an end.
Lavi, 42, was happily married to her husband, Shlomi, for a year and a half until he died 13 years ago. For 13 years, her husband’s family refused to allow a little- known ceremony, known as Halitza, to be performed. It was required by Jewish law in her particular case to allow her to remarry.
Because she had no children with her husband and he had a living brother, Jewish law required that Halitza be performed in order to symbolically release her and her former brother-in-law from the obligation of marrying each other, in what is known as levirate marriage.
Levirate marriage is no longer operative in Jewish law, but the ceremony required to release a widow and her brother-in-law from the obligation must still be performed.
However, Lavi’s brother-inlaw refused to conduct the ceremony since her fatherin- law demanded that she pay NIS 200,000 in medical expenses for her late husband.
Her husband’s family claims she misused money that was supposed to be used for his treatment; she vehemently denies this.
Legal wrangling continued in the courts for 13 years until a compromise agreement was reached between the two sides, whereby Lavi agreed to pay the family NIS 20,000, and in return the family promised to permit the Halitza ceremony to be conducted.
The ceremony was completed in accordance with Jewish law in July. But upon presentation of the documentation to the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, the judges refused to grant her permission to marry, because in the years during which the family refused to perform the Halitza ceremony, Shlomit found a new partner, Alon Lavi, and had four children with him.
The court said that she had violated Jewish law in this regard and could not marry her partner.
Shlomit appealed the case to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, however, and on Sunday the court overturned the regional court decision and gave her permission to marry Lavi, her partner of 10 years.
Tehila Cohen, an attorney and rabbinical court advocate for Yad L’Isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center, a women’s rights group, represented Shlomit, and said that they had urged the court to hear the case quickly because of the lengthy period she had been unable to marry her partner.
According to Cohen, the hearing lasted two hours and the rabbinical judges, including Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, quickly concluded that there was sufficient room in Jewish law to take a lenient approach and gave her permission to marry Alon.
“They were attentive to the distress of this woman and the fact that she wanted to live in accordance with Jewish tradition and to start a new chapter in her life,” said Cohen.
“They looked for ways to help this woman, not the other way around. There are enough sources to be lenient in such as case and it just depends what approach the rabbinical judges want to take,” she added.
Shlomit also said the judges at the Supreme Rabbinical Court had been sympathetic to her case.
“It’s impossible to describe how I feel today, I hope no other women will need to understand what I have been through,” she said.
“Today I have received my basic rights to marry as a Jew in the Jewish state,” she continued.
Shlomit said that she would be organizing the wedding in short order once preparations could be put in place and family members living abroad could arrange to come to Israel for the celebration.