17-year prisoner for divorce refusal could be released from incarceration

Tzviya Gorodetsky’s request that the rabbinical courts close her divorce case with Meir Gorodestky was granted by the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court on Tuesday.

Zvia Gordestski (left) holding the rabbinical court document freeing her from her marriage, alongside Center for Women’s Justice attorney Nitzan Caspi-Shiloni (photo credit: CENTER FOR WOMEN’S JUSTICE)
Zvia Gordestski (left) holding the rabbinical court document freeing her from her marriage, alongside Center for Women’s Justice attorney Nitzan Caspi-Shiloni
The longest serving prisoner for divorce refusal could be released from his 17-year incarceration after Tzviya Gorodetsky, the woman he denied a divorce for more than two decades, requested that the state rabbinical courts close the case.
In June, an independent Orthodox rabbinical court convened to rule on Mrs. Gorodetsky’s plight, and annulled her marriage using three principles of Jewish law.
Tzviya Gorodetsky asked that the private rabbinical court rule on her case after she despaired of her husband ever granting a divorce after requesting one for some 23 years. That included 17 years in which the rabbinical courts enforced Meir Gorodetsky’s prison sentence for refusing to accede to its order to grant a divorce.
Following the ruling, Tzviya Gorodetsky requested that the rabbinical courts close the file so that she can put the saga behind her and move on, and the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court issued a ruling on Tuesday acquiescing to her request.
The judges wrote that they could not conduct divorce proceedings in the case since Tzviya Gorodetsky said she was not interested in continuing the process, but noted that her physical safety might be endangered by the release of her husband from jail.
The judges were also critical of the private rabbinical court’s ruling annulling her marriage, saying the decision was invalid and that Tzviya Gorodetsky is still married. They further said that anyone who is able should try to convince Meir Gorodetsky to grant a divorce.
Although the incarceration ordered by the rabbinical courts, which is a civil process, will now end, the State Attorney’s Office has begun criminal proceedings against Meir Gorodetsky for his divorce refusal.
Criminal prosecution of severe cases of divorce refusal was made possible in 2016 by the State Attorney’s Office, but only one case has been pursued until now.
The Rabbinical Courts Administration said it was cooperating with the State Attorney’s Office and the police to prevent Meir Gorodetsky from being released in order, it said, to prevent him from fleeing the country to evade further sanctions.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court has ordered that he remain in prison until the end of the criminal proceedings, but his lawyers have appealed this decision.
A statement issued by the Rabbinical Courts Administration denounced the Center of Women’s Justice (CWJ) that has represented Tzviya Gorodetsky of late, and which helped convene the independent rabbinical court as “a radical women’s organization,” and accused it of having “an agenda” and “foreign interests.”
The administration accused CWJ of “taking advantage of the wretched situation of the chained woman who has been hoping for a divorce for years, and has offered her a fictitious and deceptive solution which with a magic wand a private rabbinical court, which is not recognized, declares her to have never been married at all.”
The Rabbinical Courts Administration also voiced concern that the ruling by the independent rabbinical court could encourage divorce-refusers to persist in their refusal because they could eventually be released.
It said it hoped that the criminal proceedings against Meir Gorodetsky will be successful so that he remains in prison, and that it would do everything to fight his release and that of other divorce-refusers.
CWJ said in response that Tzviya Gorodetsky’s case proved that even sanctions such as prison are not sufficient, and that only the adoption of solutions within Jewish law that annul or invalidate marriages will guarantee the freedom of women.
The organization said if the state rabbinical courts refuse to adopt such measures, private rabbinical courts will take their place, and hit back at the Rabbinical Courts Administration’s criticism of CWJ.
“Obviously, the rabbinical courts, due to their failure to solve the problems of divorce refusal, wants to besmirch women’s organizations,” the organization said, adding that it would be better advised “to deal with solutions for chained women instead of mudslinging.”
CWJ also noted that even the rabbinical judges of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court said at the hearing on closing the file that they did not believe Meir Gorodetsky would ever grant a divorce.