A rare rabbinical court ruling granting divorce to a woman whose husband is in a coma has raised the fury of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, with one even terming it a “liberal scandal.”
Under Jewish law, both parties must consent to a divorce. But the Safed Rabbinical Court, invoking a rare legal procedure known as a get zikui, decided that under the circumstances, the man would have wanted to divorce his wife and let her remarry had he been able to voice his opinion. The ruling was issued over two months ago, but was published by the Rabbinical Courts Administration only Tuesday night.
One of the Safed ruling’s vocal critics is Rabbi Dov Halbertal, an attorney and expert in Jewish law who was close to the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the former head of the “Lithuanian” (non-Hasidic) Haredi community.
“This is a liberal scandal,” Halbertal said of the decision. “You don’t even need to read the ruling to understand that. It’s no wonder Rabbi Elyashiv fought against religious Zionist rabbis serving as rabbinical court judges. And now we see the result: a panel of religious Zionists issuing such a far-reaching ruling. After all, the husband is a living man, and the woman is his wife.”
The ruling’s opponents include judges on the state-run rabbinical courts, one of whom said on Thursday that “the ruling isn’t worth a red cent.”
Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who heads the Rabbinical Court of Appeals, hasn’t commented publicly on the ruling. But the Safed court consulted him before issuing it, and in his 17-page response – a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz – he wrote, “Under no circumstances do I agree to a get zikui.”
After Yosef refused to approve the decision, the three-judge panel, headed by Rabbi Uriel Lavi, applied to Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, a leading judge on a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinical court that isn’t part of the state-run system. Goldberg wrote that he considered the ruling “very correct, and I join in the opinion to permit [the divorce] in the special case before us.” But since then, Haaretz has learned, several rabbis have urged Goldberg to retract his support for it.
The Haifa Rabbinical Court is slated to rule on a similar case in the coming weeks – a divorce suit by a woman whose husband is in a vegetative state. But sources in the rabbinical courts told Haaretz that this court has reached the opposite conclusion and will level scathing criticism at the Safed court’s ruling.