Court rejects Rabbinate order, keeps husband jailed

husband refusing to grant his wife a divorce will remain in prison until the court hears a full petition filed by the wife.

Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mavoi Satum (“Dead End”) announced on Thursday that the High Court of Justice struck down part of an order of the Rabbinical High Court, the result of which is that a husband refusing to grant his wife a divorce will remain in prison until the court hears a full petition filed by the wife.
Under Orthodox Jewish law, which governs the country’s divorce law, a Jewish woman may not remarry unless her husband consents to divorce her, even if he is refusing in contempt of court.
The Rabbinical High Court decision that was struck down was issued by a three-rabbinical-judge panel, including Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, and was about to lead to the release of the husband, whom the court itself had imprisoned.
The Rabbinical High Court’s order had conditioned keeping the husband in jail for refusing to give the wife a divorce on her dropping a separate action against him.
The High Court’s order was technically an interim order to keep the status quo, at least until it can review the full facts and legal issues of the case. The interim order struck any condition that could lead to the husband’s imminent release and upheld the portion of the Rabbinical High Court’s order that provided for keeping the husband in prison for at least another six months.
The wife has been seeking a divorce since 2002. Since 2006, the husband had been obligated by the rabbinical courts to grant his wife a divorce.
Between 2006 and October 2012, the Rabbinical High Court increased the sanctions against the husband, to try to convince him to grant his wife a divorce.
In October 2012, the Rabbinical High Court finally ordered the husband imprisoned, having found that his refusal was unwavering, and that the most harsh sanction it could impose was warranted.
But on December 18, 2012, the Rabbinical High Court conditioned the husband’s continued imprisonment on the wife’s permanently dismissing a separate family court action for damages against the husband.
The wife had already withdrawn the separate damages action, so no action was actually pending at the time.
However, an action which is withdrawn, as opposed to an action which is permanently dismissed, can be refiled later.
The Rabbinical High Court essentially demanded that the wife refile her action with a request that it be permanently dismissed, so that she would never be able to refile it.
The wife’s attorney, Hadas Grossman, had already agreed to have the action dismissed permanently, on condition that the husband grant a divorce.
But the Rabbinical High Court denied this compromise, declaring that permanent dismissal of the action was a precondition to any continuing of the husband’s imprisonment and would not be linked to the granting of a divorce itself.
In a January 8, 2013 decision, the Rabbinical High Court specifically cited the violation of its exclusive authority over measures used to compel a refusing husband to give a divorce as the basis of its readiness to release the husband if the wife did not dismiss the separate action, even though the court, on the merits of the case, was ready to continue his imprisonment.
The wife’s petition to the High Court, filed on her behalf by Mavoi Satum, was filed on an emergency basis to prevent the husband’s imminent release, which would have taken place on Thursday.
Mavoi Satum director-general, attorney Batya Kahana Dror, said, “We are happy that we succeeded in stopping the unethical and unconstitutional decision of the Rabbinical High Court to free a divorce refuser from prison, the goal of the decision of which was to conduct a jurisdictional battle between the venues [the rabbinical and family court venues] on the backs of the women” whose requests for a divorce are being refused.
Another of the wife’s attorneys, Gali Etzion of Na’amat, said prior to the ruling that “the High Court cannot leave standing the Rabbinical High Court’s decision which harms the fundamental rights of women in Israel, the right to access to [family] courts, the right to ownership and the right to receive compensation for being damaged.”
Yifat Biton from the Temura Center implied that the decision by the Rabbinical High Court had been a power grab, unrelated to the wife’s situation, to roll back the tools of the family courts to pressure men refusing to give a divorce, so that such tools would remain solely within the power of the rabbinical courts.
Mavoi Satum assists women whose husbands refuse to give them a divorce with legal and other proceedings on the issue.