(photo credit: AP)
Israel's youngest couple ever to apply for a divorce was granted one by the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court this week.
The court ruled after the groom's parents discovered that the teenage lovers - she 14 and he 17 - had exchanged marriage vows in front of two witnesses, swapped rings and consummated their union, all according to the protocols of Jewish law, a spokeswoman for the Rabbinic Courts Administration told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Although it is illegal under Israeli civil law for minors under 17 to marry, Jewish law requires only these three elements for a marriage to be valid.
Releasing only limited details of the case due to legal constraints, the Rabbinic Court Administration spokeswoman said that the groom's traditional parents discovered details of the "wedding" several days after it had taken place and forced the two teens to end their union, seeking an official divorce in the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court. They even paid the young woman NIS 10,000 for agreeing to part ways with their son. Both of the teenagers live in the capital.
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, director of the Rabbinic Court Administration, said that the incident should serve as a warning to other youngsters that "marriage is not a joke but a serious commitment that should not be taken lightly."
"We want young people to learn from this case," the spokeswoman said. "Getting married like this can ruin a young person's life."
The courts said in a statement that this was the most unusual divorce on record, and certainly the one involving the youngest party. Two years ago, 16-year-olds who had married according to Jewish law were also granted a divorce by the courts. Their divorced status, said the RCA spokeswoman, would likely appear on the teens' identity cards when they receive them at the age of 16.
A report released two weeks ago by the National Council for the Child showed that in 2006 some 4,304 minors under the age of 18 were officially married in Israel, 166 of them under 16. However, the majority of underage unions occurred among Muslims.
Divorce statistics published by the Rabbinic Court Administration last month showed that 10,225 Jewish couples divorced in 2008, a rise of 4.7 percent from 2007.
Jews may only marry in Israel in accordance with Halacha, although civil marriages from abroad are recognized.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services reported on Wednesday that 18,608 new social welfare cases were opened last year, with roughly half coming from couples filing for divorces in either the religious or the secular courts.
According to the information, 3,441 divorcing couples experienced serious conflicts over division of assets and child custody. In 2008, social welfare officers succeeded in finding a resolution satisfactory to both parents regarding the children in less than half of those cases.