Chief Rabbi Backs Bill Penalizing Men Jailed for Refusing Divorce

Proposed law, initiated by MK Dov Lipman and supported by chief rabbi, is aimed at recalcitrant husbands.

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A new bill, drawn up with the support of Chief Rabbi David Lau, would restrict the rights of men who have been imprisoned for refusing to grant their wives a get (Jewish divorce) in an effort to encourage them to do so.

Under the bill, such recalcitrant husbands would not be housed in the prison’s religious wing; would not be given the more strictly supervised mehadrin kosher food and would not be allowed to make any phone calls other than to their rabbinic pleader or their attorney.

The bill is being sponsored by Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), and has gotten the signatures of 14 other MKs, including some from Habayit Hayehudi.

“This law would be a solution for those agunot [women who cannot obtain a divorce] in the most difficult situations, who are married to the most stubborn get-refusers of all,” explained Lipman. “Withholding mehadrin kosher food and banning them from the religious wing will break the spirits of those hiding behind religion to hurt their wives. This bill is a small step toward reducing the aguna phenomenon in Israel.”

The Rabbinical Courts Law authorizes the religious courts to issue various restrictive orders against men who refuse to obey court rulings calling for a divorce. Among other things, it’s within their power to order the recalcitrant husband imprisoned, though this is done only in extreme cases, after all other attempts to persuade the man to issue the divorce fail. But the law offers no further solution in cases where the man, although in prison, still refuses to grant a divorce.

“Experience shows that get-refusers are prepared to spend lengthy periods in prison and thus prevent many women from being freed from their aguna status,” the bill’s explanatory notes state. “In such cases, all the tools available by law – restraining orders against leaving the country or withholding a driver’s license, or seizing property – are not effective, since the get-refuser is in prison.”

While the restrictions included in the bill would undermine the rights of the prisoner, the bill points out that, “The keys are in the hand of every get-refuser, such that at any time he can be released from these restrictions and go free, as long as he fulfills the ruling and releases his wife who is trapped in an aguna state.”

Inmates at Maasiyahu Prison, where a divorce refusenik is now incarcerated.Credit: Nir Kafri

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