Prison jail generic.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The supreme rabbinical court of appeals upheld a life sentence handed down to a
man who has refused for ten years to give his wife a bill of
Meir Gorodetzki was imprisoned by the Jerusalem rabbinical court
in 2001 for refusing to allow his wife to divorce him and has spent the last ten
years in jail for his ongoing refusal to give his wife a bill of divorce, or
Rabbinical courts have sole jurisdiction in matters pertaining to
marriage and divorce, and have the ability to mete out punitive measures to
convince a husband to give a wife a bill of divorce.
According to Jewish
law, a man must grant his wife a get of his own volition before they can be
divorced. A woman cannot remarry unless she receives a bill of
The maximum sentence that the rabbinical courts (beit din) can
give for such an offense is ten years of imprisonment.
sentence was coming to an end but his wife requested that he not be released,
fearing that he would flee the country and she would never be able to
The Jerusalem rabbinical court ruled in May 2011 that Gorodetzki
would remain in prison for as long as he continues to deny his wife a bill of
Gorodetzki appealed the case to the rabbinical court of appeals,
the Great Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, claiming that the sentence infringed
the country’s Basic Law of human dignity and freedom.
In the hearing in
November, details of which have only now been released, the panel of rabbinical
judges – headed by rabbinical supreme court president Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger –
ruled against Gorodetzki. In a creative interpretation of the law, the judges
ruled that it is Gorodetzki himself who is restricting his own freedom, as well
as that of his wife, and that he holds the keys to his personal
“If the appellant is released from prison before he has divorced
his wife, she will remain an agunah (a woman bound to her husband) for ever…
Anyone who allows this would be considered as if they had shed her blood,”
Metzger said during the hearing.
“The keys to your release are in your
own hands… through the fulfillment of your obligations as a Jew. Release your
wife and then you will receive your freedom,” Metzger told
Gorodetzki and his wife Tzviya Esther first married in 1983 in a
civil marriage in the US but divorced in 1987. Gorodetzki emigrated to Israel in
1989, became Orthodox and joined the Chabad hassidic group. The couple then
remarried in 1991.
Gorodetzki’s wife subsequently accused him of physical
violence and verbal abuse, and the Jerusalem rabbinical court ordered him to
give his wife a get in December 1999.
He refused to grant his wife the
get and was imprisoned by the Jerusalem court in October 2001. Despite his
incarceration, Gorodetzki continued to deny his wife a get and the court ordered
additional measures be taken against him, including barring him from receiving
visitors, letters or telephone calls (apart from with his lawyer); preventing
him from receiving mehadrin (stringently kosher) food; two 90-day periods of
solitary confinement; and barring him from buying food in the prison canteen.
The court also instructed the prison to provide psychiatric treatment and denied
a request by Gorodetzki for his children to be allowed to visit him.
are very happy with this ruling and it sends a very strong message,” said Batya
However, it is a shame that these kinds of sanctions get used in
so few cases. Instead, it needs to become the norm. In the majority of cases
where husbands are sent to prison, they quickly give a get.
that for cases with men that exhibit psychological pathologies who are prepared
to sit in jail for extremely long periods rather than divorce their wives, the
rabbinical courts should annul the marriage retroactively, based on the
principle in Jewish law of “mistaken acquisition.” “If a man denies a woman her
freedom, then he should have his own freedom denied,” she
According to a recent study conducted by the Rackman Center for
the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, punitive
sanctions are imposed by rabbinical courts in only 1.5% of the cases in which
they are applicable.
Such measures include preventing a recalcitrant
husband from traveling abroad, confiscating his driver’s license, being struck
off from professional associations and imprisonment.
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