The 'get' gets fairer

Jewish law giving more power to the husband is finally amended.

divorce 63 (photo credit: )
divorce 63
(photo credit: )
The Knesset has finally succeeded in amending the Spousal Property Relations Law, 35 years after it was initially passed, thus bringing a decades-long struggle to its successful conclusion. We had almost been driven to despair by years of cynical political maneuvers, solely aimed at preserving the Rabbinical Courts' control over the divorce process. But two weeks ago more than 50 MKs managed to pass the amendment initiated by the International Coalition for Agunah Rights (ICAR) and, by so doing, to overcome coalitional considerations in favor of the need to resolve the plight of women whose get (religious divorce) is being delayed. The law, which will now allow for the division of property before the get, is a historical step towards the advancement of human rights, and especially towards advancing gender equality. From the broader perspective of the divorce regime and legal arrangement in Israel, one can say that the amendment is the most important development in many years in advancing the status of women and gender equality in the Israeli family law and divorce system. Ever since it was passed, the Spousal Property Relations Law was no more than a "dead letter," as the Supreme Court described it, because its arrangement for equal distribution of the marital property between the spouses could only be executed after the divorce (i.e., only after the husband gave the wife a get). In other words, ever since it was passed, the civil law increased the power given to the husband by Jewish law, as delaying the get also delayed the division of property. IN ISRAEL, as in the rest of the world, women are usually those in need of the immediate division of property, in order to achieve financial independence and have a fresh start. But for every woman that married after January 1974, this fundamental right was at the complete control of her husband, just like the get itself. The rabbinical establishment was consistently opposed to allowing the property to be divided before the get, claiming that this would encourage divorce and also cause many couples to separate without arranging a religious divorce. Recently it has also been suggested that a get given after the property was divided according to the amendment might be considered a "coerced get," thus not valid according to Jewish law - so that any woman such divorced would really still be married to her husband, forbidden to marry another, and her children by any other man would be considered bastards (mamzerim). In this the rabbinical establishment unmistakably placed itself on the side of the husbands, closing its eyes to the suffering of countless women who had to make extensive concessions to achieve their get and their liberty. Truth be told, the Rabbinical Courts and the religious parties backing them were simply afraid of losing their absolute control over the separation procedures between spouses. With this amendment, which severs once and for all the Gordian knot between property division and the get, Israel has placed itself at the forefront of advanced countries in the world in matters of equality and fairness regarding the economic consequences of divorce. From the broad picture I see as a member of the UN's expert committee supervising the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), it is clear that the fundamental arrangement set by the law, along with the Israeli civil courts' rulings, is one of the most advanced in the world in terms of protecting women's rights and acknowledging their part in the family assets accumulated during a life together, as well as in future property and earning capacity, in a way that aims to minimize as best as possible divorce's dire financial consequences for women. We should welcome the fact that the courts can now start to implement this advanced arrangement for the welfare of women and children in Israel, and we can only hope that the Rabbinical Courts, which are also subject to the law, will do so as well. Prof. Halperin-Kaddari is the Director of the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women in Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Law; and a member in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).