In a precedent-making decision, the Rabbinical Court in Haifa this week forced a woman in the midst of a divorce case to undergo a lie-detector test to determine if she was a drug user and had cheated on her husband.
The court said that the test could help determine whether the mother was fit to have custody over her children.
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, administrative head of the Rabbinical Courts, told Army Radio that the ruling would serve as a precedent to allow the use of modern tools, such as the polygraph, in divorce or child custody cases with insufficient evidence.
In the past rabbinical courts have refused to accept polygraphs as admissible evidence, arguing that the results are unreliable according to the standards of Halacha.
In 1984 the Supreme Rabbinic Court, headed by Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, ruled that the lie-detector was illegitimate evidence. "The test is incapable of proving anything conclusively," wrote Waldenberg at the time. "And our Sages have already stated that one cannot know another's thoughts."
A major premise of Waldenberg's argument is that "it is a Torah edict that only on the basis of two witnesses can a matter be established."
However, the Haifa Rabbinical Court ruled that due to the gravity of the situation the lie-detector could be used since there was reason to believe that the husband's claims of his wife's infidelity and drug use had some basis.
Although Waldenberg ruled against polygraphs, others have argued that the test could be used to intimidate witnesses or as circumstantial evidence in addition to other sources of evidence.
Rabbi Shlomo Korach argued in an article that appeared in Tehumin in the same year that Waldenberg issued his decision that polygraphs were admissible evidence.
In this week's decision Rabbi Haim Hertzberg, Rabbi Yitzhak Shmuel Gamzo and Rabbi Michael Bliecher decided that a lie-detector test was admissible as a deterrent against attempts to deceive the court.
According to them whenever there is reason to believe that the charges against the wife are substantial and that the case brought before them is dealing with a grave matter there is justification to use a polygraph.