‘Aguna’ freed after 14 years of suffering

Covert plot involved fraudulent passports, private detectives, a safe house and widespread bureaucratic cooperation.

Couple holding a wedding rings 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Couple holding a wedding rings 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a yarn whose plot could almost have come out of a spy novel, a Jewish woman whose husband refused to grant her a religious divorce for 14 years, known as an aguna or chained woman, was finally freed from the marriage after her Iranian husband was arrested following his visit to Israel for his son’s wedding.
The story, which has just been authorized for publication, involves an abusive husband, private detectives, a safe house, clandestine inter-ministerial agreements and, despite a fraudulent passport, a quiet plan to allow the crossing of international borders to bring an end to one woman’s suffering.
The tale began some 30 years ago in Iran, where a young girl, just 15 years old, got married The relationship was strained from the outset, and any time the young woman expressed her wishes to her husband she would be subjected to angry attacks. The couple nevertheless had three children, a girl and two boys.
Approximately 15 years ago, the husband’s father became seriously ill. The husband decided to send his wife and father to Israel so the older man could receive better medical treatment.
He said he would join them shortly thereafter. Their daughter suffered from diabetes, so it was decided that she, too, would go while the two sons remained with their father.
Four months after they arrived in Israel the woman’s father-in-law died. The husband did not come for the funeral and asked his wife to return to Iran with their daughter. But she refused. Both sons eventually emigrated to Israel due to a desire to evade the military draft in Iran, but their father remained, visiting Israel only from time to time.
According to the Rabbinical Court’s Department for Agunot, on one of his visits the husband, using various threats and forms of intimidation, tried to pressure his wife to return to Iran, but she refused. After one such visit, during which she said she had been subjected to serious verbal abuse, the woman opened a file at a family court, which issued a restraining order against the husband as well as a court order preventing him from leaving the country.
The woman also requested a divorce via a regional rabbinical court. Several hearings were held, but the husband managed to flee Israel on a false passport, refusing to grant a divorce.
Jewish law stipulates that a husband must willingly grant a religious bill of divorce, or get, in order for a divorce to be final. A woman must willingly accept the divorce. Without a bill of divorce, a woman cannot legally remarry and have children. A man may also not remarry without a divorce.
In 2011, the woman’s case was passed to the Department for Agunot, which began negotiations with the husband through the rabbinate in Moscow. Still, he refused to grant her the get. But three months ago the woman became aware that her husband was coming to Israel for the wedding of one of their sons.
She informed the Yad L’Isha Legal Aid center, which assists women suffering from get-refusal, that her husband was coming for the wedding, which in turn notified the Department for Agunot.
Because of his legal difficulties in Israel, as well as problems posed by the lack of diplomatic relations between Israel and Iran, the husband planned his entry via an Israeli consulate in Turkey. But there were two further difficulties. The first was that he was using a forged passport. The second was the Foreign Ministry’s strike, which ended only last week.
This generated further complications, but the department held discussions with both the Foreign and Interior ministries so as not to lose the opportunity to catch the husband and pressure him to grant the divorce.
The ministries acceded to the department’s requests and the husband successfully acquired a visa. As soon as he landed in Israel two weeks ago he was put under surveillance; his wife had asked that he not be arrested until after the wedding in order not to mar the celebrations.
The wedding took place two weeks ago on a Thursday. The department planned to ask the police to arrest him the following Sunday.
However, the couple’s children sided with their father and tipped him off the day before the arrest, saying there were rabbinical court hearings scheduled against him. A plan was then hatched to try and help him flee the country once again.
But the department got wind of the scheme and ordered the man’s immediate arrest. He was apprehended and brought to the rabbinical court – where he refused to grant the bill of divorce.
Rabbinical courts are empowered to issue sanctions, including imprisonment, against men who refuse to grant a bill of divorce. The husband was immediately incarcerated. But this still failed to put an end to the affair, as the woman was now subjected to threats from her family in light of her husband’s imprisonment.
She was placed in protective custody in a secure apartment in Jerusalem, once again with the help and financial assistance of Yad L’Isha.
But once she was in the safe house, the husband seemingly gave up hope of leaving prison without ending the marriage. After several days behind lock and key he finally agreed to grant his wife a divorce and the marriage was finally terminated.
The regional rabbinical court had issued its ban on publishing details of the story shortly before the husband reached Israel in late March so as not to alert him to the proceedings against him. The ban was lifted over the weekend.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mimon, director of the Department for Chained Women, spoke of the cooperation between the department and the Interior and Foreign ministries, as well as the country’s security services.
“We thank them for their help in freeing this unfortunate woman who suffered for so long,” Mimon said. “Determination and persistence has helped release her from these chains and she will sit at the Seder table this Passover as a free woman.”