Law for rabbinical courts to hear non-Israeli divorce cases approved

The law is seen as controversial since it expands the jurisdiction of the state rabbinical courts to non-citizens on the highly charged issue of divorce refusal.

File photo: Divorce. (photo credit: REUTERS)
File photo: Divorce.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A new law allowing Israel’s state rabbinical courts to impose sanctions against non-Israeli recalcitrant husbands who refuse to grant a divorce to their wives and are present in Israel was approved by the Knesset on Monday night by 42 votes against 24, with two abstentions.
The law is seen as controversial since it expands the jurisdiction of the state rabbinical courts to non-citizens on the highly charged issue of divorce refusal, although several centrist MKs worked to moderate the terms of the law in committee.
The legislation, which is a temporary three-year law, allows the Rabbinical Courts to hear a case involving a couple in which neither spouse is Israeli, on one of three conditions: if there is no rabbinical court where the couple lives to deal which can hear the case; the couple has not been in front of a rabbinical court for four months; or if a husband refuses to give a divorce after a rabbinical court in the Diaspora ruled that he must do so and made “reasonable efforts” to enforce its decision.
The law only applies to recalcitrant men and not women, and the recalcitrant husband must be present in Israel for the rabbinical courts to hear the case.
The rabbinical courts in Israel can impose sanctions on recalcitrant spouses to persuade them to divorce, such as revoking driving licenses, revoking passports, placing restrictions on their bank accounts, and even imprisoning them for extended periods of time.
But such sanctions are not at the disposal of rabbinical courts in the Diaspora since they are not state institutions, meaning that there are few effective tools for persuading a recalcitrant spouse to consent to a divorce.
According to the Rabbinical Courts Administration, the Conference of European Rabbis, a major association of Orthodox rabbis in Europe, requested that the Israeli rabbinical courts find a solution for cases of divorce recalcitrance involving non-Israelis, a request that is answered by the new legislation.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria insisted last week after the legislation was approved in committee for its final readings that the law would indeed help women around the world who have been denied a divorce by their husbands.
Although the original version of the law included a clause that would have given the rabbinical courts jurisdiction in cases in which a couple married in a civil ceremony in the Diaspora and are facing difficulties obtaining a divorce in that country, including couples who are Israeli citizens.
This clause was however removed, as was a clause which would have allowed the rabbinical courts to rule on ancillary matters to the divorce such as child support payments.
And a clause was added stipulating that a bill of divorce granted by a husband not be connected to any conditions, a clause designed to prevent him extorting more favorable terms in the divorce settlement in return for him actually granting the divorce.
It is also stipulated in the law that the Israeli rabbinical courts are not superior to Diaspora rabbinical courts.
Finally, the legislation was passed as a temporary law, with the rabbinical courts required to report to the Knesset every year about its implementation, so as to ensure that the courts do not abuse the new power afforded to them.
Director of the Rabbinical Courts Rabbi David Malka said last week after the bill was approved in committee that the legislation would allow the State of Israel “to reach out an assist every Jewish woman in the world wherever she is, even if she is not an Israeli citizen,” and enable the rabbinical courts “to act with determination and tirelessly to free chained women around the world.”