Accomplices to crime

Ten years of aginut provide the backdrop for this ruling.

An Ultra-orthodox couple at their wedding in Bnei Brak. (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
An Ultra-orthodox couple at their wedding in Bnei Brak.
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The uniqueness of a groundbreaking decision handed down by the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court on Monday lies in the object of the ruling: the father of a sarvan get – a man who is cruelly refusing to provide his wife with a Jewish writ of divorce – has been sentenced to 30 days in prison. Yes, the father of the husband, as opposed to the recalcitrant husband himself.
Ten years of aginut provide the backdrop for this ruling.
An entire decade in which a woman has been condemned to live as a prisoner, bound inextricably to a marriage from which she wanted to be released, in which the key to her chains was held by two hands – one belonging to her husband, and the other to her husband’s father.
In our years of work with agunot and mesuravot get [women who are “chained” to dead husbands, abusive or unviable marriages], we have encountered more than a few aiders and abettors, those who provide the husband with support in his continued refusal to give his trapped wife a get. Obstinate husbands do not usually operate in a vacuum; they often have the backing of those around them, who encourage and assist them as they ensure that their wives do not taste freedom.
Sometimes the support is financial and practical, other times it is moral support which provides the husband with legitimacy and validation.
Either way, without this backing, most would lack the fuel to keep the fires of their despicable behavior burning for as long as they do – in this case, for more than 10 years.
These aiders and abettors are nothing less than accomplices to a crime, and they must not be allowed to shirk the direct responsibility they bear for the ramifications of the husband’s cruel actions.
But although this is so clear to us, as we represent mesuravot get and agunot daily and witness their unending pain, it has not been acknowledged by the rabbinical courts – until Monday. On Monday, the precedent-setting ruling recognized the evidence and testimonies which painted a very clear – if not very pretty – picture of a father who not only did not protest his son’s refusal to give his wife a get, but who actively served as the influence behind that refusal.
As this picture became clearer, the court responded with a bold, groundbreaking ruling: to impose sanctions associated with contempt of court on the father, who with his actions and omissions is causing his son to violate a previous court order stating that he must grant his wife a get.
Through the court’s decision to incarcerate the father of the recalcitrant husband – a detailed ruling based on sources – they are for the very first time conveying an important message: that there is nothing which overrides the right of a chained woman to freedom.
This is part of her basic right to independence, respect and family life, rights which were trampled upon in this case by the crude feet of her husband and his father.
It is important to note that the rabbinical court’s decision does not stem from a desire to punish the recalcitrant husband’s father, but only to end the suffering of the recalcitrant husband’s wife. We must now hope that this step will lead to a speedy release from her miserable situation.
The court decision also has direct ramifications for other cases presently being heard in rabbinical courts across the country in which women being refused a divorce would have gone free long ago were it not for the warm and enveloping support being showered on their husbands. We hope that this ruling sends a clear and strong message to all aiders and abettors that someday they too will have to answer for being accomplices to a crime, and that they are liable to find themselves behind lock and key – just like the wives of the men they are helping.

The author is a rabbinical court advocate and attorney at Yad L’isha – the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, an Ohr Torah Stone institution, which represented the woman in this case.