Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Historic Ruling for Agunot

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.

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)
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.

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

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I hope your optimism proves to be well founded, but I think we should wait and see a) whether she ever sees a shekel of this money and b) the response of the batei din. I suspect (that as per usual) we will see lots of comments from them about the Civil Courts exceeding their remit, and an increased reluctance to help agunot.

Yellow Boy

Rafi G said...

will this be declared as a way to invalidate the get? They might now consider it a "forced get" which is invalid...
This must be formulated very carefully so as not to do more harm (by making people think they are divorced when the truth is they might not be because of having invalidated the get) thus causing even more pain.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Rafi G: Why should this be any different from beating someone up till he agrees to give a get?

(And Ive heard of Gedolim who ordered this sort of treatment for husbands...)

YMedad said...

As Ben-Tzion, a friend of mine, is American-born and educated, his ruling was to be expected and also fairly unique. But doesn't the law already provide for harsher measures, including jail?

And fix the typo = aboud.

YMedad said...

By unique I mean don't expect this to be too much of a precedent with other judges.

Rafi G said...

I too know of such stories.

I do not know the difference, but different methods bear different weight. I heard a shiur recently on the topic of divorce, and a similar point came up when discussing divorce settlements. The Rav made the point that there are times where imposing financial penalties can invalidate the get. he did not get into specifics.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

YMedad: Jail is apparently not enough...financial pressure may work better...

RafiG: Its unfortunate the Rav you heard didn't go into specifics. Agunot need all the help they can get, and the fact that there are agunot today is a failure of halacha and the entire community (and its leadership)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

YB: Civil Courts exceeding their remit

My response for them is:

במקום שאין איש

Rafi G said...

the shiur was a few months ago. The shiur was not about that. It was a side point in response to a question and that was way off the topic, so he only gave a general answer.

Rafi G said...

BTW, did you see Phil Chernofsky's editorial a few weeks ago in the Torah Tidbits, after the geirus issue?

Risa said...

The rabinical courts need some prodding. Unfortunately, the more they feel threatened the less open (if there can be less) they become. While the secular court ruling is indeed a welcome landmark it remains to be seen if it will make a difference in this or any other case.
Aside from any halachik or legal question there's one thing we do know and it's that the dayanim don't like their authority questioned and their territory encroached upon.

Ben said...

I'm more worried about the big picture. Just like some of the other controversial court decisions regarding religion in Israel, it serves to show just how hard (impossible?) it is for Israel to avoid any semblance of theocracy while maintaining the founders' (and our) dreams for a Jewish state.

Anonymous said...

I know that Ive been quite silent on here for quite some time, but I just wanted to point out that there are lots of men in this country who also cant get divorced because their wife refuses to accept the get. It isn't always the man who causes these problems in a divorce. I heard a stat that says there are even more men who are "agunot" than women in Israel. It's hard to believe that stat, but I'm sure the ratio is much closer than most people think. Eventhough a non-divorced man can theoretically have another wife or even kids out of wedlock who will not be mamzers, this is an issue that the rabbanut should also try and find a solution to. I personally was an "agunah" for 17 months until my wife's lawyer convinced her to settle, so I am talking from experience here. People tend to automatically assume that only the man can hold off a get, but it works both ways.

JC

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

JC: Yes, it is a 2 way street, but most of the press goes out to defend agunot.

I assume the same settlement could work in the civil, secular courts if a woman refused to accept a divorce.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought that a woman in this position might be best served by just shooting and killing the recalcitrant husband. She could plead "diminished capacity", claim she had been driven crazy by the stress of being tormented by her ex. Rather than waste money in an extended divorce battle, use the cash to hire a good lawyer. In the U.S., she'd probably serve a couple of years, and be out when she is still young enough to start over, and the Mr. no longer in the way to gum up the works. The upside of this is that if only a few widows do this, before you know it, men will be falling over their own feet to deliver a get to their ex-wife. The possibility of mortality concentrates the mind on what's important.

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