Court to hear widows' petitions against NII

Institute stops paying survivor's benefits to widows who live with a new partner without marrying them.

nii bituach leumi 248 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nii bituach leumi 248 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday will hear three petitions demanding that the National Insurance Institute continue paying survivor's benefits to widows who live with a new partner without marrying them. Widows who do not remarry are entitled to a survivor's stipend. But if the National Insurance Institute (NII) becomes aware that a widow is living with someone, they stop paying it. According to attorney Yitzhak Shilo, who is representing one of the petitioners, revoking the stipend is a violation of the law, which stipulates that it can only be stopped if the widow remarries. The NII, however, regards widows who live with a partner as married. The legal significance of this case involves more than widows' benefits, because at stake is the legal status of women in such relationships. "Yedua b'tzibur," a religious-legal concept of ancient Jewish origin, is loosely translated as common-law. However, there are a few key differences between the two, including public acceptance. According to religious law, if the public assumes a couple is married, then they are married for religious legal intents and purposes. Over the past 30 years, Israeli courts have accepted this concept as well, viewing common-law relationships as marriage for civil purposes. Shilo said the law cannot be applied to these instances because of the differences between the status of a married woman and that of a woman in a "yedua b'tzibur" relationship. In an earlier ruling on this case, the National Labor Court said a common-law relationship was equal to a marriage, following the recent legal trend. The appeal by Shilo to the High Court states that the National Labor Court overstepped its boundaries, because it was not in its jurisdiction to decide that common-law status is tantamount to marriage. "It is only from the moment the woman marries that her stipend is stopped," he continued. "That means that while she is still a widow, the state should be helping her and paying her." The NII could not be reached for comment. Smadar Boaron, the widow whom Shilo is representing, hopes the case will be ruled in her favor. After her husband was killed in a car accident, she met and moved in with another man. One day, investigators from the NII came to her house. "They asked questions. I had nothing to hide," Boaron said. "I told them the truth." The NII then said Boaron was no longer eligible for the stipend because she was living with a man. Since 1994, the NII has been keeping track of the relationship status of widows who receive the stipend. After all, goes the thinking, if the courts have been ruling increasingly over the years that living together is equivalent to marriage, then why can't the NII view it this way as well? The High Court decision about the legal status of these widows will affect hundreds, if not thousands, of women.