Chief Rabbi prevents 10-year-divorce refuser from burying his mother

“This is the most severe case of Agunah for over a ten years in which the husband totally refuses to allow his wife to continue her life."

David Lau
A man who refused to grant his wife a divorce for over a decade consented to terminating the marriage after his mother died and Chief Rabbi David Lau backed a ruling preventing him from burying her until he gave the divorce.
The ruling and its support from Lau is surprising, given the supreme importance Jewish law ascribes to burying the dead as swiftly as possible.
The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (UOR) in New York issued a ruling on Monday to postpone the burial of the recalcitrant husband’s mother, who had just passed away, in order to pressure the husband to give his wife a divorce.
The mother’s burial casket arrived in Israel from the US during the course of Monday night, and after examining the details of the case, Lau gave backing to the decision.
Compounding the recalcitrant husband’s misdeeds, five years ago, he secured a ruling by what the Chief Rabbinate described as “an informal and unrecognized rabbinical court” to take a second wife, meaning he could remarry while continuing to not grant his first wife a divorce.
“This is the most severe case of an agunah [a “chained woman”] for over 10 years in which the husband totally refuses to allow his wife to continue her life while he is unlawfully married to a second wife,” said Lau. “After all other options were exhausted, we were forced to inform the burial society not to bury his mother until a valid bill of divorce was given over to the son [of the couple].”
Since the husband is currently in Israel and his wife is in the US, he has pledged to attend a hearing of the US rabbinical court and obey its ruling, and has deposited a monetary guarantee to ensure he adheres to his commitment.
The hard-line, socially conservative Hotam organization, noted for its campaigns against gay people and LGBTQ rights, praised Lau’s decision, saying that his actions proved that the Chief Rabbinate was “doing everything in its power to free agunot,” and saying that it showed that women’s rights groups could cease their activities.
Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha legal aid center and hotline for agunot, Pnina Omer, welcomed the court ruling and Lau’s support, although she said that such extreme measures should not be necessary. “The rabbinical court acted correctly and with great bravery,” Omer said. “The chief rabbi made a very difficult decision, but saw what was best for the agunah.”
She added, however, that “The idea that such extreme measures are needed to liberate a woman is unbelievable,” and said that the incident demonstrated the need for practical solutions to the phenomenon of divorce refusal, such as recognizing and encouraging couples to sign halachic prenuptial agreements.
Such documents have been used in the US and have been very successful in preventing divorce recalcitrance among those signing such documents. The Chief Rabbinate in Israel currently does not recognize prenuptial agreements. “The time has come to find a foundational solution to the problem of agunot,” concluded Omer.