Rabbinic courts are actually better off under Justice Ministry'

Judges now more willing to use sanctions to solve aguna problems says, court administrator.

Rabbinic court 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Rabbinic court 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
There has been a marked improvement in state funding for rabbinic courts since the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry four years ago, the courts' administrative head, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, said Wednesday. Ben-Dahan spoke at a press conference announcing a two-percent fall in Jewish divorces in 2007 compared to 2006. According to data released by the rabbinic courts on Wednesday, a total of 9,765 couples divorced in 2007, compared to 9,963 in 2006. "Religious and haredi politicians traditionally have not placed the rabbinic courts high up on their priority lists," said Ben-Dahan. "As a result, the rabbinic courts have received less funding than civil courts. But since the rabbinic courts were transferred to Justice Ministry jurisdiction, we have been upgraded and are almost on par with the civil [courts] as far as funding goes." Ben-Dahan added that rabbinic court judges were now using more sanctions against recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give their wives a get (writ of divorce), such as the cancellation of drivers licenses and exit visas, or even prison sentences. The rabbinic courts were transferred to the Justice Ministry as part of the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry. Ironically, the political party Shinui, which ran on an aggressive anti-religious intervention platform, strongly supported the transfer. Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, known for his attacks on Jewish religion's influence on politics in Israel, was justice minister at the time. The possibility that the rabbinic courts might be returned to the Religious Affairs Ministry became real again this week after the Knesset voted to reinstitute the ministry under the leadership of MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas). Every year, approximately 30,000 Jewish couples get married. According to Jewish law, a woman cannot remarry until her husband agrees to give her a get. Women waiting for an intransigent husband to give a get are known as agunot, or "chained" women. If agunot do marry without receiving a get from their previous husbands, the children born of the second marriage are considered illegitimate, or mamzerim. Mamzerim are forbidden to marry. In 2007, 23 men were incarcerated compared to nine in 2006. A total of 55 private investigators were appointed to locate husbands, up from last year. Ben-Dahan said that the increased use of sanctions against husbands was the result of a changing of the guard within the rabbinic courts. "The older generation was more wary of using sanctions against recalcitrant husbands," said Ben-Dahan. According to Jewish law, if a husband is forced to give a get against his will, and the judges have not determined beyond a reasonable doubt that the husband is obligated to divorce his wife, the get is void. "Many judges were concerned that a get given under threat of sanctions was a forced get," said Ben-Dahan. "But things are changing. Younger judges, willing to use sanctions, are replacing the old generation."