In a further challenge to the Chief Rabbinate’s control of marriage and divorce, an independent, ad hoc Orthodox rabbinical court has freed a woman from a defunct marriage by annulling the union, the third such case it has resolved in the last nine months.
The basis for the court’s annulment of the marriage was the principle in Jewish law of a “mistaken transaction,” whereby it can be assumed that someone entering into an agreement who was not provided with the full details of the transaction would not have agreed to the transaction, had they known the full details.
The court stated that the woman had not been informed of her husband’s prior violent behavior and other serious problems, and therefore annulled the marriage on the principle in Jewish law of a “mistaken transaction,” whereby it can be assumed that someone entering into agreement who was not provided with the full details of the transaction would not have agreed to it had they known.
According to the Center for Women’s Justice, which requested that the court convene on the case, this is the first time in Israel that any rabbinical court has annulled a marriage on the principle of “mistaken transaction” outside of cases where the spouse is missing or comatose.
Independent rabbinical court rulings are not seen as valid by the Chief Rabbinate and the state Rabbinical Courts Administration, and the woman in question would likely encounter difficulties remarrying in Israel through the rabbinate.
The court, headed by Rabbi Daniel Sperber and convened by the Center for Women’s Justice, has previously issued two similar rulings, both in 2018, one for a woman denied a divorce for more than 18 years and one for a woman denied a divorce for nine years.
The state rabbinic courts have struggled to resolve the most severe and intractable long-term cases of divorce refusal, and have not used tools within Jewish law to dissolve or annul marriages, which some Orthodox rabbis have endorsed.
The latest case involves a woman originally from abroad and who married abroad, but who now lives in Israel.
According to CWJ, the woman, who cannot be named since her ex-husband poses a physical threat to her, was pressured into the marriage, which quickly became highly problematic.
During the marriage, her ex-husband was violent and emotionally abusive, and humiliated her in various ways.
He had been married previously, which the woman was aware of, subsequently refused to grant his first wife a divorce, and eventually used the divorce process to extort favorable terms in the divorce agreement, a fact his second wife was unaware of when she married him.
The man was also physically violent toward his first wife and was eventually convicted in a criminal court of assault and imprisoned due to his violent behavior against her. He had also been imprisoned on other occasions for other criminal behavior, and was even hospitalized in a psychiatric ward due to mental health problems.
None of this information had been disclosed to his second wife before they were married.
According to CWJ, the man has been released from prison, is no longer part of the Jewish community, lives with a Muslim woman and no longer considers himself Jewish.
Since the woman was not told that the man was violently and emotionally abusive toward his first wife, as well as the fact that the woman had been pressured into the marriage, Sperber and two other rabbinical judges, who have declined to disclose their names, annulled the marriage and ruled that the woman is single, that her marriage had never been valid, and that she is free to marry anyone, even a priest, who divorcées are generally prohibited from marrying.
“The verbal, psychological and physical abuse that she went through justifies without any doubt separating her from her husband, and if the man would have been heard by a rabbinical court there is no doubt that they would have ruled to obligate him to grant a divorce,” wrote the rabbinical judges of the ad hoc court.
“The husband is evil and wicked and refuses to grant the long-awaited divorce. He does not listen to teachers and continues to sin towards G-d and his fellow man. It appears that the chance of getting a divorce from him are zero,” they wrote.
They also wrote that since the woman was totally unaware of the man’s severe problems before she married him, the marriage was a “clear” example of “mistaken transaction,” and that the marriage should therefore be annulled.
The rabbis also said that the fact that the man was living with a Muslim woman meant he was essentially an apostate.
Following the ruling, the Center for Women’s Justice said it was pleased that the rabbinical court had annulled the marriage and disregarded the husband’s refusal to willingly terminate the union.
“This is good news – a halachic institution exists in the State of Israel that advances the values of freedom and justice for women,” said the organization. “This independent rabbinical court provides services to women who are unable to divorce their spouse. This is an important step for women in Israel, Jewish law and democracy in Israel.”
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