Deputy religious affairs min. lauds 'gets' ruling

Ruling states that husbands who refuse divorce from their wives can be imprisoned indefinitely.

A marriage in Tel Aviv 311 (R) (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
A marriage in Tel Aviv 311 (R)
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Eli Ben-Dahan welcomed on Tuesday a High Court of Justice ruling that will allow rabbinical courts to imprison for an unlimited amount of time a man who refuses to give his wife a bill of divorce.
In the decision, handed down on Sunday, the High Court essentially recognized the High Rabbinical Court as having the authority to keep husbands who refuse to grant their wife a “get,” the term for a bill of divorces, in jail for more than 10 years, the maximum amount of time that it could do so prior to the decision.
Instead of relying on its standard statutory power to imprison husbands refusing to give their wives gets, the High Rabbinical Court used the court power to hold non-cooperative litigants in contempt.
The court generally uses this power for jailing people for relatively short periods of time, but since it has no specified limit for how long the court can keep someone in prison, in theory those who refuse to give gets could effectively be given life sentences.
The overall procedural context and result came as a result of the High Court rejecting a petition by an imprisoned get-refusing husband to free him from prison, strike down the High Rabbinical Court’s expansion of its powers and order the rabbinical courts in certain cases to issue divorce decrees even without the husband’s consent.
Ben-Dahan, a rabbi and former director of the rabbinical courts system, said however that the ruling was just one of several reforms needed to free women whose husbands refuse to give them gets.
“We need a law to enact stricter punishments on recalcitrant husbands as well as an extradition law for husbands who flee the country,” said Ben-Dahan. “I will continue in my activities to advance these laws in the current Knesset term.”
Batya Kehana Dror, the director of the Mavoi Satum divorce rights organization, said that the ruling was important but insisted that greater reforms to the system were necessary.
The deeper problem, she said, was that rabbinical judges only rarely send recalcitrant husbands to prison for refusing to grant the bill of divorce.
Kehana-Dror noted that there are only nine men currently in prison for refusing to give a get out of the hundreds of cases in which a woman has been denied a divorce for an extended period.
“These men deny freedom to their wives so their freedom should be curtailed until they decide otherwise,” she stated.
Rabbinical courts are authorized to impose various punitive sanctions against recalcitrant husbands if they refuse to give their wife a get once ordered by the court.
These include preventing the husband from traveling abroad, confiscation of his driver’s license and even imprisonment.
However, the sanctions are not frequently used. According to Mavoi Satum, punitive sanctions are imposed in as little as 1.5% of all cases of recalcitrant husbands, because the rabbinical courts are afraid that the sanctions will invalidate the divorce since the husband would not be giving it of his own free will.
Mavoi Satum is currently working on legislation that would pass jurisdiction for the imposition of sanctions from the rabbinical courts to the civil family courts once a rabbinical court has ordered a husband to grant his wife a bill of divorce.
The petitioner argued that regardless of how wrong the husband might be, it was an inconceivable breach of his fundamental constitutional rights to imprison him indefinitely on the basis of a general and legislatively undefined power like contempt, which was never meant to be used for such an extreme punishment.
The High Court rejected this claim, stating that the very unlimited amount of time in prison made possible by the contempt power was the perfect “fix” for convincing a litigant who was not cooperating with the court to cooperate.
In an unusual development for a case involving a get, the couple in question had actually been married twice.
They were first married in 1973 in a civil marriage in the Soviet Union, and remained married until they divorced in 1987.
In 1989, the husband made aliya to Israel and became religiously observant. In 1990, the woman converted to Judaism while she was in Ukraine and also made aliya.
The couple remarried in a Jewish religious ceremony in 1991.
The second divorce proceedings started in 1993, culminating in the rabbinical courts ordering them to agree to a divorce in 2000 and ordering the husband imprisoned in lieu of his agreement to the divorce.