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A gay pride flag emblazoned with the Star of David, at the Pride Parade in Jerusalem in June 2009. Photo by Tess Scheflan / JINI
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Since the death of a senior university faculty member three years ago, a legal battle has been raging between his sister and the man claiming to be his common-law partner. Last month Yeshayahu Tischler, a Be'er Sheva Magistrate's Court judge, rejected the man's lawsuit in a controversial ruling that held that the 1965 Inheritance Law applies only to relationships involving a man and a woman.

A month later, the claimant remains furious. "We lived as a couple for 26 years, but he hid it because it was unacceptable to come out of the closet. We lived together for a long time, and I loved him very much. The ruling infuriates me. The judge held from the beginning that a couple can be only a man and a woman," he said.

"It's simply maddening that a judge can write off the entire population of homosexuals and lesbians. He just took 26 years of my life and crossed them out," he said.

The sister of the professor said in court that his will had made no mention of a partner.

Tischler wrote in his ruling, "My opinion is that the expression 'man and woman' [in the Inheritance Law] can mean only one thing: a male and a female."

He also rejected the man's claim that he was in a romantic relationship with the deceased.

"There was indeed a special link between this man and the deceased. At the center of this relationship was the deceased's desire to rehabilitate this man, who was an at-risk youth and had descended into drugs. As part of that effort, the deceased invested vast sums of money in him. The relationship was altruistic and sociological, but not romantic," wrote the judge.

Boaz Kraus, the attorney representing the sister, agreed that the two men's relationship had not been romantic.

"The ruling is entirely clear. Whether what that man is claiming in court is true or not, it is in complete violation of the wishes of the deceased. Everything he said is lies, and damages the memory of the departed," said Kraus.

Marina Gordin and Keren Chen, attorneys for the claimant, said, "Many witnesses were brought to court to testify on behalf of our client and left no doubt about his relationship with the deceased."

The claimant's attorney said the phrase "man and woman" was used in the Inheritance Law to signify any romantic relationship, and to differentiate it from the marital relationship implied by "man and wife." The court, however, chose to interpret the text strictly, reading it as referring to a male and female.

The claimant's attorney vowed to appeal the ruling.

Dan Yakir, a legal consultant for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said, "The ruling that inheritance must be determined only based on the model of the heterosexual couple, is trying to push the legal field back decades, and represents discrimination against same-sex couples.

"The fact that many gay couples live in the closet means the court should pay special attention to the complexity inherent in the situation, and not add additional locks to the closet," he said.