Country’s longest divorce refuser walks free from prison

‘The chief rabbinate don’t care that they haven’t provided me with a solution. That’s what bothers me,’ says agunah of over two decades

File photo: Divorce. (photo credit: REUTERS)
File photo: Divorce.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 Israel’s longest divorce-refuser, Meir Gorodestsky, walked free from Ella Prison in Beersheba on Wednesday after close to two decades of incarceration because he refused to grant his estranged wife, Tzviya, a bill of divorce.
Tzviya obtained a ruling from an independent rabbinical court in 2018 that annulled her marriage, and she subsequently closed the case against her husband in the state rabbinical courts, leading to his release on Wednesday.
The state rabbinical courts and the Chief Rabbinate do not, however, recognize the validity of the independent court ruling in 2018, and therefore she is still registered as married in the Interior Ministry.
Gorodetsky, 55, was married to her husband for nine years and had four children with him before eventually requesting a divorce in 1995 due to his violent and abusive behavior, which included beating her while she was pregnant so that she miscarried, and throwing acid on her.
He steadfastly refused to grant a bill of divorce even after being ordered by the State Rabbinical Court to so. This led the court to eventually place him in prison, where he has been sitting for the last 19 years determined never to grant his wife a divorce.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Tzviya said that her husband’s release has caused her distress, but that she nevertheless felt that there was little point leaving him in jail.
“This situation has been stuck for 20 years,” she said. “Nothing has changed. I never thought he would go to jail, and I never thought he would stay there for so long.” She expressed hope that Meir’s release may lead him to finally grant the divorce.
“If I leave him there and he’ll just continue to be angry with me and the rabbinate and I don’t need this anger, this isn’t my intention in life to be involved in the courts and in negative things, I don’t want to be in this pit. People have only a few years to live, we need to focus on what is good.”
Tzviya was strongly critical of the rabbinical courts and the chief rabbinate, however, for what she described as their failure to find a solution for her situation.
“It’s not a solution to leave a man in jail like this, that hasn’t given me my freedom,” she said. “I don’t understand why rabbis think that persisting with his incarceration is helpful. Is the goal that someone dies in jail? That shouldn’t be the goal. The rabbinate wants a monopoly over these issues so they do not recognize the ruling. They don’t care that they don’t provide a solution. They sleep well [at night]. That’s what bothers me. A situation in which a woman cannot be freed from being an agunah is not commensurate with Jewish law, it was not meant to be like this.”
Despite having received the ruling from the independent rabbinical court annulling her marriage, Tzviya says that she is not prepared to remarry until the Chief Rabbinate and the state recognize that her marriage has been terminated.
Asked why she wants the recognition of the state despite the ruling she received from the independent court, Tzviya stated: “I need to be totally certain that I am not doing anything which contravenes Jewish law.”
The Center for Women’s Justice, which has represented Tzviya, said the case “exemplifies the legal and moral failure inherent in Israeli divorce laws,” and that hundreds of other women in Israel were also suffering due to these failures.
“Tzviya is only one of hundreds of women in Israel who are denied the right to divorce, violating their basic human rights to freedom and autonomy,” said the organization in a statement to the press. “When even the best solutions of the State Rabbinic Courts still leave women trapped with no recourse, the state’s Rabbinic Courts have lost all moral mandate to maintain their monopoly on divorce in Israel. It is cruel and immoral for the state to forbid women from obtaining freedom from non-state entities, while at the same time refusing to offer a state-sanctioned alternative.”
The Rabbinical Courts Administration said in response, “Those who brought about the release from prison of the most severe divorce refuser is none other than the Center for Women’s Justice. In the framework of its war on the rabbinical courts, it has taken advantage of the distress of an agunah and convinced her to close the file in the rabbinical courts. What this means is that Gorodetsky is leaving prison while his wife remains an agunah, and while he can escape and leave Israel and never return.”