Women’s groups question divorce statistics released by rabbinical courts

Issues surround sanctions against recalcitrant husbands.

The Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Several women’s rights groups have accused the rabbinical courts of obfuscating the severity of divorce recalcitrance for women in the statistics it released this week.
The Center for Women’s Justice took particular issue with one statistic which stated that a Rabbinical Courts Administration’s special unit obtained as many as 211 halachic bills of divorce (gets) for women whose husbands have fled the country in 2016.
Center for Women’s Justice attorney Nitzan Caspi Shilony expressed skepticism that the unit could obtain such a high number of divorces in one year, arguing that if one took into account non-work days such as Fridays, Sabbaths, Jewish holidays and other national holidays, the special unit would have freed one aguna (“chained woman”) for almost every day of the year it was operating.
Caspi Shilony also questioned the claims of the Rabbinical Courts Administration that the rabbinical courts issued 205 rulings imposing punitive sanctions on 47 recalcitrant husbands in 2016.
She noted that the sanctions rulings included a broad range of possible punitive measures, including very mild ones such as preventing a man from leaving the country while refusing to grant a divorce, something which can be obtained relatively easily and even before a ruling has been made by the rabbinical court.
Indeed, the Rabbinical Courts Administration statistics themselves showed that there were only nine instances in which a jail sentence for recalcitrance was used.
Attorney Batya Kehana-Dror, director of the Mavoi Satum organization, noted that the number of spouses who were subject to sanctions, 36, was extremely low compared to the probable number of husbands who refused to give a divorce.
Statistics published by the Rabbinical Courts in February showed that there were 143 cases in which a husband refused to grant a divorce to his wife in 2016, meaning that the 36 who faced sanctions represented 25% of recalcitrant husbands.
Women’s rights groups claim that the true number is much higher; however, since a husband is only considered recalcitrant if the rabbinical court has already issued a ruling obligating him to give a divorce, and it can take many years for the courts to issue such rulings.
Penina Omer, director of the Yad L’Isha group, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions, said that the data provided omitted crucial statistics such as the total number of women who are currently being denied a divorce by their husbands.