July 18, 2024
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In Rare Ruling, Rabbis Uphold Woman’s Divorce, But Deem Her Ex Still Married

After a ‘chained’ woman’s ex-husband claims he deliberately botched divorce ritual,
rabbinic court says she’s still single, but he must issue another ‘get’ if he wants to remarry.

In a highly irregular, seemingly self-contradictory ruling, the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court upheld the validity of a former “chained” woman’s divorce from her ex-husband last week, but determined that he would still be considered married as he maintained he deliberately bungled their divorce ceremony in an attempt to nullify it.

In addition, the judges ruled that by casting false aspersions on their divorce proceedings, he had committed contempt of court and sentenced him to seven days in prison. They gave him the option to avoid the prison stay if he recanted his comments, but he refused.

Advocates on behalf of so-called “chained” women, or agunot, whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, or a get as it’s known in Hebrew, hailed the court’s landmark decision, calling it an important, potentially precedent-setting step in addressing the issue.Vladimir Zhirinovsky, firebrand Russian nationalist politician, dies at 75

“This Rabbinical Court ruling makes it ever more clear to get-refusers that they have no right to play both sides of the field—on the one hand issuing a get to avoid sanctions, while at the very same time continuing their recalcitrance in public,” said attorney Dina Raitchik, of the organization Yad La’isha, who represented the woman.

For privacy reasons, neither the man nor the woman’s names have been released, nor has the court’s ruling itself.

Under the chief rabbinate’s interpretation of Jewish law, there is no way to dissolve a legally valid marriage without the consent of the husband. Rabbinic courts can impose sanctions, including prison time, on husbands who are recognized as refusing to give a get, but they cannot force them to give one.

This practice of refusing to give a get has been recognized in Israel and in some other countries as a form of spousal abuse. Women who are denied a get cannot remarry; they can even face sanctions for entering into romantic relationships with other men while waiting to receive a divorce. Any children they have with other men while still technically married to their get-refusing husband will carry the heavily stigmatized designation of mamzer, which would effectively prevent such offspring from ever marrying in Israel. And more.

In this case, the man and the woman married in 2006 and had five children together. In 2017, she left him and requested a divorce from him, which he refused.

After more than two years of waiting to receive a divorce from her husband, the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court recognized her request as legitimate and ordered her husband to issue the divorce or face “social sanctions,” which are meant to ostracize get-refusers from their communities, according to Yad La’Isha, a Modern Orthodox organization that provides legal assistance to “chained” women.

When those “social sanctions” failed, in part because the religious seminary where he studied refused to uphold them, Raitchik asked that the court instruct the husband’s landlord not to renew his lease and to call on all landlords in the country to do the same, and the judges approved the measure. This too was apparently precedent-setting.

Nevertheless, it too failed, leading the courts to threaten to imprison the husband—the most significant sanction that can be imposed in these cases—if he continued to refuse to give his wife a get, “at which point earlier this year, he finally agreed to set his wife free,” Yad La’Isha said in a statement.

The man indeed provided his wife with a divorce document in a ritual before a rabbinic court a few weeks ago. However, according to Raitchik, who attended the ceremony, the man repeatedly tried to sabotage the ritual, saying the wrong words throughout.

“He was very difficult during the get ceremony,” she told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Eventually, however, every line was said to the court’s satisfaction and the divorce was approved by the judges.

But believing that his repeated mistakes were an intentional effort to invalidate the divorce, the court later warned him that if he attempts to publicly deny the lawfulness of the get, he would be held in contempt of court.

Shortly after the ceremony, the man indeed began telling people that he had deliberately botched the ritual by incorrectly saying some of the words, which he claimed nullified the divorce, and insisted that he was thus still technically married to the woman.

As a result of his remarks, last week, the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court called in the man and woman to address the issue.

At the same time, the judges maintained that the original divorce was still considered valid. The woman was therefore still to be considered legally divorced, meaning she could remarry freely.

The man, however, was a different story. The judges ruled that due to his continued assertions that the divorce was invalid, he would still be considered married until he gave his now ex-wife another divorce, what is known in Aramaic as a “get l’chumra.”

This seemingly impossible situation—him still being married, while she is still divorced—stems from a novel application of a concept in Jewish law known in Aramaic as Shavyeh Anafsheh Haticha D’Issura. This Talmudic principle asserts that, in certain cases, if a person truly believes something to be true they must treat it as true, regardless of its actual veracity. The idea originally comes from a case in which a person was unshakably convinced that a piece of meat was not kosher. Under this concept, that person is forbidden from eating that piece of meat, even if it actually is kosher. Such subjective prohibitions are limited solely to the person with the unshakable belief; it does not apply to anyone else.

“If you are convinced that something is forbidden, it’s forbidden,” said Rabbi Zev Farber, senior editor of TheTorah.com and a research fellow for the Hartman Institute’s Kogod Center.

“But I’ve never heard it applied in a case like this,” he said.

Farber was not involved in this case, nor has he reviewed the ruling, but as a dayan he was able to explain the central concept that the court relied upon to issue this decree.

In the Talmud, this concept of Shavyeh Anafsheh Haticha D’Issura is applied not to a one-sided marriage, but effectively to a one-sided divorce. The Talmud considers the case of a man who is totally convinced that his wife cheated on him, despite a lack of evidence. If there were evidence of infidelity, the couple would be required to divorce. In a case of Shavyeh Anafsheh Haticha D’Issura, however, as there is no evidence of adultery, the couple is not required to divorce, but because of the husband’s unwavering belief that infidelity did occur, he is required to abstain from having sex with his wife.

Farber said this apparently first-ever application of this concept to a divorce case has a degree of humor to it.

“Their invoking of it is a little tongue-in-cheek because they think he’s full of it,” Farber said.

That is to say, the judges do not necessarily believe the man is sincere in his belief that the divorce was fraudulent, but they are holding him to it anyway.

“They’re making him pay for his attitude,” Farber guessed.

Raitchik said that her client was more than willing to accept the supplementary get from her ex-husband. This is primarily because she does not want there to be any question about the legality of her marriage or the status of her future children should she choose to remarry.

“Of course she’ll accept the get. She won’t cause any problems,” Raitchik said.

Yad La’isha and its parent organization, Ohr Torah Stone, hailed the landmark ruling.

“This is a remarkable example of how rabbinical judges should aspire to act, and a model to which the Committee for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges should set before them when installing the next round of judges: people of courage who are not afraid to bravely liberate agunot,” said Pnina Omer, director of Yad La’isha.

By Judah Ari Gross/TimesofIsrael.org

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