One issue that routinely raises consternation and despair within Orthodoxy is that of "Agunot" -- the "chained" wives, whose husbands refuse to grant them a "Get", a religious divorce. The lack of a "Get" prevents these women from remarrying, and there are known husbands around the world who refuse to free their wives. The reasons for their refusal range from attempts to force child custody settlements which favor the husband, extortion to pay less financial alimony which was guaranteed at the time of the religious marriage, gain shared assets or those of the wife, to petty revenge and attempts to cause additional pain to the wife.
While Orthodoxy attempts to grapple with this issue via pre-nuptial agreements, retroactive divorces signed at the time of marriage, and brute-force community pressure on the recalcitrant husband, the State of Israel's family court in Jerusalem issued a historic ruling yesterday which offers an additional solution to pressure the husband -- Judge Ben Zion Greenberger ruled that a husband who refused to give his wife a religious divorce for nine years will compensate her with NIS 550,000 (about $158,532.5), on top of whatever financial settlement they may reach regarding the divorce.
This legal decision is not a religious ruling, but from the State of Israel's secular Family Court.
The precedent was set in the case of an ultra-Orthodox woman who began the proceedings towards a divorce in 1998. The woman, who was physically abused by her husband and forced to flee her home with three children in tow, reached the High Rabbinical Court, where judges ruled the husband must give her a divorce.In Israel, where marriage and divorce are religion-based and run by Israel's religious courts, its refreshing to see their sister civil-secular courts (big-brother courts?), pick up their slack and offer additional pressure on these miserable recalcitrant husbands that give Judaism and humanity a bad name.
But two years after this ruling the husband continued to refuse the divorce, and the woman appealed to the Family Court, demanding compensation for the distress her husband had caused her over the years, and for the denial of her right to marry again and go on with her life.
Prior to this precedent, courts had ruled that damages should be paid from the moment of the divorce's finalization, but the new ruling allows the wife to sue for damages for all the years in which her husband refused to give her a divorce, including the years her law suit spends pending in courts. (YNET)
It's unfortunate that it gets to this in the first place, and in the words of the woman''s attorney, "This is a huge step taken by the civil courts in order to compensate for the rabbinical courts' failure to solve divorce conflicts."
I wonder if Israel's civil courts would have helped with this issue even if there was total separation between religion and state.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד