Prisoner escapes Rabbinical Court through window

Shai Cohen escaped through the bathroom window; he was jailed for refusing to grant wife a divorce for 12 years.

March 6, 2013 23:16
2 minute read.
Second floor window at Rabbinical Court from which the prisoner escaped.

Rabbinical Court window where prisoner escaped 370. (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)


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A 40-year-old prisoner who refused to give his wife a divorce according to Jewish law escaped during a hearing at the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman, Shai Cohen of Holon attended the hearing that ended around 1 p.m. He then asked to go to the bathroom; Cohen was not handcuffed and did not have leg shackles, as he had previously refused to attend court hearings in shackles.

Two guards from the Nachshom prison unit waited outside of the bathroom with the door half open.

Suddenly, they heard the door slam and lock. Once they were able to break through the door, they found Cohen had jumped through the bathroom window to the courtyard two floors below.

The bathroom did not have bars. Police found Cohen’s shoes on the ground near where he jumped.

Immediately, large numbers of police showed up on the premises and a helicopter began circling overhead.

Police believe that Cohen had an accomplice who was waiting in a getaway car as Cohen had no wallet and no cellphone when he escaped.

Cohen was jailed in October 2007 for refusing to give his wife a get, or Jewish divorce. According to tradition, the man must agree to give his wife the divorce, and Cohen has refused to do so for the past 12 years. This makes his wife an aguna, or chained woman, as she cannot get remarried according to Jewish customs.

The rabbinical courts sentenced Cohen to prison in hopes it would force him to change his mind. Cohen was known as a “civilian prisoner” rather than a “criminal prisoner” because he had not committed any official crimes. A few weeks ago, the rabbinical courts sentenced Cohen to an additional year.

The estranged wife’s lawyer told reporters that Cohen had agreed to a compromise and was on the verge of granting the get before he fled.

The wife told reporters she also blamed the Prison Service’s “negligence” in allowing her ex-husband to escape and accused the guards of “acting like buddies.”

In 2012, the rabbinical courts issued 60 judgments against men who refused to grant their wives a divorce, ranging from travel and financial restrictions to jail time. There are thousands of agunot in Israel, according to Batya Kahane-Dror, an attorney and the director of the aguna advocacy organization Mavoi Satum.

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