Rabbinical Court Forces Battered Wife to Meet Husband

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Outside the Jerusalem rabbinical court.
Outside the Jerusalem rabbinical court.Credit: Tess Scheflan

The Jerusalem Regional Rabbinical Court forced a woman to speak privately with her abusive husband after the judges were allegedly swayed by fixers, or macherim, a complaint filed against the judges by the woman revealed.

According to the complaint, the macherim went to the rabbinical judges’ homes and affected the way the case was handled. The complaint suggests that this was not an isolated case.

The ombudsman of the Israeli judiciary, retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin, found the complaint justified. Another complaint against an almost identical panel, which alleged that the judges had refused to accept women’s testimony, was also found justified.

The complaint was filed by a woman whose husband used to beat her and her children. He was convicted of assault and sent to prison. When the woman wanted to divorce him, the rabbinical judges told her that macherim had spoken to them and suggested letting her husband have a private conversation with her for half an hour.

They said that if her husband failed to convince her to take him back, he would grant her the divorce.

The judges were Rabbi Yosef Goldberg, Rabbi Meir Isachar Mazuz and Rabbi Israel Shahor.

“I tremble at the idea,” the woman told the judges. “I cannot talk to him, I cannot sit with him in the same room.”

Her attorney, Sarah Markowitz, told the judges that her client, who was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, was undergoing therapy following the abuse she and her children had been subjected to by her violent husband. Despite this, the rabbinical court forced her to speak privately with her husband, in the courtroom, in the judges’ presence but without any lawyers.

The woman said that during the conversation her husband cursed her, but the judges did not intervene. She said they told her she’d do well “to suffer” a little more, as long as she gets the divorce afterward.

Before forcing the woman to talk to her husband, the judges did not bother to ask her husband if he accepted the macher’s proposal and would in fact divorce her.

At the end of the talk the husband denied any
agreement to divorce his wife.

It transpired that a well-known macher, Rabbi Moshe Gedalya Wertheimer, had visited Judge Goldberg’s home in the company of two residents of the neighborhood where he lives.

Goldberg said he thought they had come to ask for a donation, but the three said they wanted to help a resident of the neighborhood whose wife filed for divorce against him in the rabbinical court.

Goldberg told Rivlin that he made it clear to the men that he must not discuss the issue with them, but they only asked to put off the hearing until the husband was released from prison.

Goldberg said he told them they must file a request to the rabbinical court and deposit a 100,000-shekel bond. The money was deposited by Wertheimer’s family.

Goldberg said that after the hearing was postponed, Wertheimer would shout at him during random encounters, “What do they want from the husband, he’s willing to divorce her if they let him talk to his wife for half an hour.”

Goldberg said he did not respond, but told the other judges on the panel about the incidents “in a bid to close the case without requiring proof.”

Rabbis Shahor and Mazuz confirmed that Wertheimer had approached them too, but said they dismissed him out of hand.

Although Shahor and Mazuz did not meet the macherim, they exerted pressure on the woman to meet her husband.

The woman wrote in her complaint that “this ‘conversation’ was a renewed trauma for me and exerted a high emotional price.”

She complained to the ombudsman about the macherim’s pressuring her to meet her husband despite her mental state. She said the macherim’s requests influenced the rabbinical court, especially Rabbi Goldberg.

Rivlin accepted her complaint in full and criticized the rabbis’ conduct. He wrote that the rabbinical judges’ pressure on the woman to meet her husband, on the basis of Goldberg’s talk with a macher outside the court, was “questionable.”

“The court didn’t bother to make sure at the beginning of the debate that the husband had undertaken to divorce his wife if he was allowed to talk to her. Instead the court chose to rely on a conversation the [macher] had with Rabbi Goldberg,” he wrote.

Goldberg denied the allegations and said that in his opinion the complaint came from “the woman’s attorney’s imagining that I had some connection with the husband’s side in the case.”

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