(photo credit: INIMAGE)
A woman whose husband refused to give her a bill of divorce for 14 years was finally freed from her marriage last week with the intervention by Chief Rabbi David Lau, in his position as a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Some 14 years ago, the woman discovered her husband was having a homosexual relationship with a Filipino carer.
She immediately opened a file with Jerusalem Rabbinical Court in order to terminate the marriage.
Jewish law however stipulates that a man must willingly grant a bill of divorce, or get, to his wife, and that she must willingly accept it, in order for the marriage to be dissolved.
In this case, the woman’s husband refused to agree to the divorce and it took six years for the rabbinical court to issue ruling that obligated him, according to Jewish law, to give the get.
He continued to refuse to grant the bill of divorce for another six years until the rabbinical court sent him to prison for this behavior.
During this time, the wife sued her husband in the family courts for monetary damages for preventing her from getting a divorce and starting a new life without him.
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The husband subsequently refused to consider giving the bill of divorce as long as the suit in the family courts remained open and a panel on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, headed by former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, threatened to release the man from jail if she did not withdraw the suit.
Mavoi Satum, a women’s divorce rights group, and one of its attorneys Hadas Grossman then appealed to the civil High Court of Justice arguing that the Supreme Rabbinical Court had no legal right to force the woman to withdraw a law suit in a civil court.
The High Court ruled in the woman’s favor and issued an order to keep the man in prison. However, the Supreme Rabbinical Court then offered the woman a deal, saying that the husband would agree to the divorce if she paid him 18 percent of a jointly owned apartment, which Mavoi Satum calculated to be approximately NIS 300,000.
The woman refused the offer, arguing that it was an attempt to force her to buy her bill of divorce from a husband who was caught in a homosexual relationship. Additionally, the husband owed NIS1.5 million in child support payments.
The Supreme Rabbinical Court eventually released the man from jail, despite the decision of the High Court, and the case was returned to the local Jerusalem Rabbinical Court.
There, however, the court said that it would cancel its order obligating the husband to give the get if the woman did not withdraw her suit from the family court and agree to the deal offered by the Supreme Rabbinical Court. She continued to insist on the civil claims however and so the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court annulled its original ruling obligating the husband to give the get.
Some six months ago Mavoi Satum appealed again to the Supreme Rabbinical Court and the woman’s case was heard last Tuesday by a panel of three rabbinical judges, this time including Chief Rabbi Lau.
In a hearing that lasted for five hours, Lau convinced the husband to drop his claims for 18 percent of the apartment and to grant the bill of divorce, in return for which the woman dropped her claim against him in the family court.
Mavoi Satum diretor Attorney Batya Kehana-Dror praised Lau for his efforts saying that he adopted their position that it is unacceptable to make a woman pay in order to receive her divorce.
“In one hearing, Rabbi Lau understood the absurdity of demanding that this woman pay for her get,” said Kehana-Dror.
“A woman is not obligated anything to her husband to be free from her marriage. Rabbi Lau adopted basic democratic values, including the rights of women.He understood that there is a right to leave a marriage without paying for it, and that is the importance of this ruling.”
Kehana-Dror noted that there have been several other long-term cases of “chained women” in which Lau has helped convince recalcitrant husbands to grant their wives a bill of divorce, and praised him for what she called his humanistic approach to the problem.
She said however that the problem of recalcitrant husbands remains acute and that only systemic change will be able to comprehensively solve the problem of get refusal.
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