Labor MK Merav Michaeli on Thursday called on women not to register as married in Israel, as long as the rabbinate retained sole power over divorce.
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Under Jewish law, a married woman stays married until her husband agrees to divorce her; she cannot remarry until that time.
"Instead of taking the responsibility [for that power] and behaving with statesmanship, resolving all the problems using solutions that exist in halakha, they are doing the opposite, flexing their muscle and stressing who has the power," Michaeli said at a Knesset debate on agunot, or women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce.
Michaeli added that she hoped the present Knesset would have the spine to abolish the rabbis' exclusive powers over "how we live our lives divorce, marriage and personal status."
Until such time, she said, the only solution is not to marry in Israel. "Make agreements and ceremonies, but don't register as married," she urged women.
The rabbi on Yesh Atid's Knesset list, Shay Piron, said it isn't the Knesset's job to legislate on behalf of abandoned wives, or wives whose husbands refuse to divorce them. Solutions for them are the fief of the rabbinate, Piron said during the Knesset debate.
His comments provoked a ruckus in the debate, the purpose of which had specifically been to consider legislative solutions for abandoned wives. It had been put on the agenda by MK Aliza Lavie, also of Yesh Atid.
"Painful as it is, changes like these aren’t done through Knesset legislation," Piron said, adding that halakha – Jewish law – doesn't pass through parliament.
Later he wrote on his Facebook page that meeting with abandoned women during the debate "broke his heart." He called on "as many men as possible" to join arms with the women and try to influence the rabbis.
MK Michal Rozin of Meretz rebutted Piron, saying the solution had to come from the sovereign, not the rabbis.
A precondition must be that civil marriage and divorce become available in Israel, she said. "Withholding divorce is part of violence against women in Israeli society. The State of Israel must release the personal status of women from the control of the rabbis."
Lavie, who had initiated the debate, also spoke out in support of Knesset action to help abandoned wives.