Woman denied divorce by rabbinate: 'I don’t want to be Michal Sela'

For some women in Israel today divorce seems like an impossible reality, as religious and legal barriers stretch before them every step of the way. One organization seems determined to change that.

MAVOI SATUM, together with several organizations, demands solutions the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court on International Women's Day (photo credit: COURTESY MAVOI SATUM)
MAVOI SATUM, together with several organizations, demands solutions the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court on International Women's Day
(photo credit: COURTESY MAVOI SATUM)
Rabbinical courts are refusing to force a man to grant his wife a get, a Jewish divorce document, despite the criminal convictions he faces for threatening her life, the Center for Women's Justice (CWJ) announced this week.
The CWJ is an Israeli organization whose mission is to advance equality for women in the State of Israel within the framework of halacha. The organization focuses on both community education and the legal system itself, where they represent women navigating difficult case in the rabbinic courts.
In a recent set of tweets, CWJ raised awareness about the experiences that many of their clients undergo.
The woman, who has been separated from her husband for over three years, has been living in a domestic violence shelter for the last three months. She has been told by her husband that his condition for divorce is that she returns to live nearby him. According to the CWJ, the rabbinic court placed significant emphasis on this condition, asking the woman if she would be prepared to reconcile with him.
"I don’t want to live near him. I’m protecting myself. I don’t want to be Michal Sela," the woman said in her plea to the court, referring to an Israeli woman who was killed by her husband in 2019.
Jewish law states that a woman cannot obtain a divorce unless her husband provides her with a Jewish legal document, known as a get. In Israel, where legal courts are run according to Jewish law, this often leads to legal barriers being placed in front of a woman trying to receive a divorce.
In this particular instance, CWJ were representing a woman whose husband had been criminally convicted for putting a threat on her life and who was withholding a get from her unless she agreed to meet certain conditions he had set. 
According to CWJ, the proceedings continued in this way for over an hour, despite this question not being the main focus of the hearing.
“This was supposed to be an evidentiary hearing... But there was no evidentiary hearing & I wasn’t able to cross-examine," a CWJ attorney expressed on twitter. "The witness who came in especially for this didn’t even get to step in the courtroom. Instead, the entire hearing was spent pressuring her.” 
The court dismissed the woman's fears of his controlling behavior, despite evidence that it could put her life in danger again were she to return to live nearby him, CWJ said.
As the hearing continued, the woman was informed that she would not be able to receive the get unless she agreed to the conditions set before her. The court seemed oblivious to her fear, instead suggesting that "moving near the man who threatened to murder her is in her best interest," and going so far as to begin writing up an agreement for her to sign.
Although in this instance, CWJ's client remained adamant that she was not prepared to agree to these conditions, the tweets concluded with a comment on the many other women who face similarly impossible choices, and "the ones who can't withstand the pressure."
"No woman should have to risk her life to gain her freedom," they concluded. "We will not rest until every woman’s freedom is an inviolable right, and not a bargaining chip."
CWJ provide online resources and legal education for attorneys, making sure that there are as many legal professionals using their strategy of filing civil damage claims in get refusal cases as possible. This allows more women across the country a higher chance of achieving justice in a legal system designed to withhold it from them. 
They are also available for professional consultation, prenuptial counseling services, and have an online resource center, allowing women to better understand the proceedings of the rabbinic courts.
More information about the Center for Women's Justice can be found at www.cwj.org.il