(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
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 of Chief Rabbi David Lau in his standing as a judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Some 14 years ago the woman discovered her husband was having a homosexual relationship with a Filipino caregiver. She immediately opened a file with the 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 husband refused.
It took six years for the rabbinical court to issue a ruling that obligated him to grant the get. Incredibly, though, he continued to refuse for another six years until the rabbinical court sent him to prison.
During this time the wife sued him in the family courts for monetary damages.
The husband subsequently refused to consider giving the bill of divorce as long as the lawsuit remained open.
A panel on the Supreme Rabbinical Court headed by former chief rabbi Shlomo Amar threatened to release him from jail if the wife did not withdraw the suit.
Hadas Grossman, a lawyer for Mavoi Satum, a women’s divorce rights group, appealed to the 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.
The Supreme Rabbinical Court then offered the woman a deal, saying the husband would agree to the divorce if she paid him 18 percent of a jointly owned apartment, which Mavoi Satum calculated to be worth approximately NIS 300,000.
The woman refused, arguing that it was an attempt to force her to buy her bill of divorce from a husband caught in a homosexual relationship.
Additionally, the husband owed NIS1.5 million in child support payments.
Despite the High Court decision, the Supreme Rabbinical Court eventually released the man from jail and the case returned to the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court.
That court said it would cancel its order obligating the husband to give the get if the wife did not withdraw her civil lawsuit and agree to the deal offered by the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
The woman continued to insist she had a right to make the civil claim, 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.
The case was heard last Tuesday by a panel of three judges, including Lau. In a hearing that lasted for five hours, Lau convinced the husband to drop his claim to 18% of the apartment and grant the bill of divorce, in return for which the woman dropped her claim against him in the family court.
Atty. Batya Kehana-Dror, director of Mavoi Satum, praised Lau for his efforts, saying 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,” Kehana-Dror said.
“A woman is not obligated in any way to her husband to be free from her marriage,” she continued. “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, praising 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.