District Court sets precedent by upholding right of ‘aguna'

Woman’s bid to sue her recalcitrant husband after he consistently refused her a get for more than 16 years upheld in precedent-setting decision.

Beit din religous court 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Beit din religous court 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A woman’s bid to sue her recalcitrant husband for NIS 700,000 in damages after he consistently refused her a get (Jewish divorce) for more than 16 years was upheld this week in a precedent-setting decision by the Tel Aviv District Court, The Jerusalem Post learned Wednesday.
“The woman standing before us has been held hostage by the [husband] who has no valid reason for the prison that he made for her simply because she once agreed to marry him,” wrote the judge on Monday, ruling on a case brought by the husband, who was appealing the damage award set by a family court.
“The respondent had the right to a get from the moment she wanted one, and all the more so when she married the appellant at the age of 24, was with him for all of three months, and knew no comfort from him.”
“Today, almost 40 years old, she continues to suffer from his cruelty towards her,” the judge continued. “He prevents, and prevented her, from experiencing life’s joys, establishing a family, and especially from having children. We are talking about immeasurable damage that increases by the day. These actions are immoral and go against the Basic Law – Human Dignity and Freedom.”
“This is indeed an important precedent,” commented attorney Susan Weiss, founder of the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ), which has represented the women since her first attempt to seek damages in Family Court through this appeal hearing in the district court.
“This is the first time a court of appeals has ruled on such a case and its decision – barring a contrary ruling by the Supreme Court – is binding on all family courts in Israel.”
She added, “This is also an important ruling for CWJ, for Israeli women, as well as for Jewish women in the Diaspora.
It is our hope that this case will serve as a precedent for women all over the world allowing them to realize that religious laws cannot be exploited to abuse them or be used to infringe on their basic rights to autonomy and freedom.”
Weiss explained that one of the main goals of the CWJ since its inception in 2001 is to establish that get refusal is abuse (a “tort”) that entitles women to damages.
CWJ has successfully achieved damage judgments for agunot, or “chained women,” in family courts all over Israel in amounts totaling millions of shekels. This ruling marks the first time that these judgments were confirmed by an appellate court.
“Slowly but surely, we have convinced family courts all over Israel to award out clients damages,” she said, adding that in this particular case, the husband appealed the family court’s ruling in the Tel Aviv District Court.
In Israel all Jews must be married in accordance with Halacha, although civil marriages from abroad are recognized. Divorces among Jews must also be effected in accordance with Jewish law.
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, and can only marry another mamzer or a convert.
While the rabbinical courts are empowered by law to impose sanctions to coerce one of the sides, usually the husband, to grant a divorce, the CWJ maintains that they generally don’t.