Eli Ben Dahan, Tomer Appelbaum
Habayit Hayehudi's Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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An anonymous private donor has been funding rabbinical courts to pay reluctant men to grant their wives divorces, a verdict from the High Court of Justice revealed on Sunday.

The court was handing a verdict regarding two petitions, filed by the Center for Women's Justice (CWJ ), against arrangements made by the rabbinical court and National Insurance Institute (NII ) to obtain a divorce from recalcitrant men.

The rabbinical courts' administration already has an arrangement to pay men who refuse to divorce their wives in certain cases, as an incentive to grant the divorce. The money is budgeted by the state. However, the verdict shows that in 2004-2005 an anonymous donor gave the rabbinical courts money to pay off dozens of men and even a few women, to divorce their spouses.

The private donor allocated some NIS 48,000 in 2004 to men in 11 divorce cases, and some NIS 61,000 in 2005 to men in 13 divorce cases. Only one payment was made in 2006, but the donor has said he intends to renew the practice.

"A private donation to the state is unacceptable anywhere, especially in a judicial system," said CWJ attorney Aviad Hacohen. "They refuse to tell us who the donor is. We don't know the exact sums he donated in every case. Is it conceivable that a private donor give the courts' administration - the equivalent to the rabbinical courts' administration - funds to pay civil litigators with no supervision or follow-up?"

The petitions were filed against arrangements made by the rabbinical courts and NII to pay off divorce objectors. The courts paid the recalcitrant men either with state funds and the private donor's money, or by writing off their alimony debts to the NII.

The petitions demanded revoking these arrangements, saying their methods were unacceptable and improper. Alternatively WJC demanded setting clear regulations for obtaining a divorce from husbands who refuse to grant them.

The rabbinical courts' administration submitted figures showing that in four cases dissenting husbands had been paid some NIS 8,000 in 2004 to agree to a divorce. In 2005 a dissenting husband was paid NIS 8,700, in 2006 eight husbands were paid NIS 65,000 and in 2007 two husbands were paid NIS 24,000.

Following the petitions, the rabbinical courts set rules for payments to divorce objectors. The regulations stipulate that payments do not exceed NIS 10,000 except for irregular cases. The administration set up a committee of rabbinical court officials to supervise the allocations.

In Sunday's ruling, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch called to reexamine the internal committees that discuss the rabbinical courts' requests for payment arrangements to divorce refusers. Since the issue bears directly on women, these committees should have an appropriate women's representation, she said.

However, the court refused to revoke the payment arrangements, as they achieve their goal and are only employed in extreme cases. As for the private donations, Beinisch wrote that the rabbinical courts must make sure they are approved according to the same criteria.