Rabbinical courts: Only 427 open cases of extended divorce proceedings

Women’s rights groups dispute low number of divorce-refusal cases presented by rabbinical courts, in Knesset committee hearing Tuesday.

THE RABBINICAL court of Tel Aviv. It has been said that rabbinical courts allow men to hold back consent to divorce their wives in order to extort the women into agreeing to unfair overall terms. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THE RABBINICAL court of Tel Aviv. It has been said that rabbinical courts allow men to hold back consent to divorce their wives in order to extort the women into agreeing to unfair overall terms.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

There are currently some 427 open cases of divorce in Israel that have either lasted longer than two years or in which more than 60 days have passed since a rabbinical court issued a ruling instructing one of the parties to give or agree to a divorce without the divorce happening, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee heard on Tuesday.

Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, an expert in divorce proceedings who was invited to the committee hearing, said that the low number of open cases was “amazing progress” in the fight against divorce refusal and showed “real improvement” in the efficiency of the rabbinical courts system.

She and other divorce rights experts challenged the low number of cases of outright divorce refusal the rabbinical courts administration presented, saying its definition hid at least dozens of cases of divorce refusal.

The hearing was requested as a follow-up to a previous hearing in the committee on the phenomenon of divorce recalcitrance and lengthy divorce proceedings that cause misery to those stuck in a marriage they wish to terminate.

The figures were presented to the committee by officials from the Rabbinical Courts Administration.

Of the 427 cases, 382 are those that have taken over two years to resolve without a divorce happening. In another 45 cases, more than 60 days have passed since a rabbinical court issued a ruling instructing one of the parties to give or agree to a divorce without the divorce being enacted.

According to the Rabbinical Courts Administration, 25% of the cases open for more than two years are due to one of the spouses refusing to leave the shared home; another 30% of cases are the result of a spouse who is refusing to give or accept divorce and have fled the country; 18% are due to one of the spouses having various difficulties conducting divorce proceedings, and 10% are due to the fact that the rabbinical court hearing the case is yet to issue a ruling.

The rabbinical courts' data also showed that there are currently just 25 open cases of divorce recalcitrance in the country, while another 16 cases of divorce recalcitrance were solved this year.

THE RABBINICAL Court’s Division for Agunot in Jerusalem. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)THE RABBINICAL Court’s Division for Agunot in Jerusalem. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Women’s rights organizations are skeptical of this figure, however, noting that a spouse can only be considered recalcitrant if the rabbinical court has issued a ruling “obligating” or “coercing” a divorce.

In cases where the court only “recommends” a divorce, a spouse refusing to divorce cannot be considered a divorce refuser.

According to the rabbinical court figures, the percentage of rulings “obligating” or “coercing” a divorce over the last three years was just 55%, meaning if a spouse refused to divorce in 45% of the other cases, they would not be considered a divorce-refuser.

The formal figures show that just 0.07% of divorce cases from 2010 until today involve a divorce-refuser, while only 3.2% of cases of divorce-refusal during the same period remain unresolved.

The rabbinical court data also showed that between 2016 and 2020, there were 569 divorce cases in which the rabbinical court began sanctions proceedings against recalcitrant spouses.

During the hearing, Kahana-Dror rejected what she called the “artificial differentiation” between lengthy divorce proceedings and divorce recalcitrance.

Kahana-Dror noted in particular that 10% of cases taking longer than two years are due to the lack of a rabbinical court ruling at all, while pointing out the high level of rulings “recommending” divorce, where a spouse refusing a divorce cannot be considered a divorce refuser.

“Cases of divorce which are drawn out in order to reach a divorce agreement are also a form of divorce recalcitrance where extortion is used. I understand that the rabbinical courts need to make this differentiation between having a ruling and not, but it is artificial.”

Pnina Omer, director of the Yad L’Isha organization, made a similar objection to the figures.

She noted that in 2019 alone, there were 70 cases in which a woman filed for a divorce and the rabbinical court rejected the request. Those women would not be considered to be denied a divorce by their husband, however, even though in those cases the husband was not consenting to a divorce.

A spokesman for the Rabbinical Courts Administration said, “Every person refused a divorce is a tragedy... but it can be proved that the rabbinical courts system is working with great efficacy in dealing with divorce proceedings and is working to eliminate the phenomenon of divorce-refusal.”