Israel's High Court Allows Rabbinical Courts to Blacklist Suspected Adulterers

Religious courts can bar alleged adulterers from marrying people banned to them under religious law.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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The Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court
The Tel Aviv Rabbinical CourtCredit: Moti Milrod
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

The High Court of Justice this week ruled that rabbinical courts may continue to blacklist those they suspect of adultery, to prevent them from marrying Jews banned to them under religious law.

Responding to a petition filed against the blacklisting practice, the court stated that the rabbinical authorities sufficiently corrected the concerns raised by the petitioners.

A woman who divorced in 2002 discovered her name was on such a blacklist and petitioned the High Court against the Rabbinical Court’s one-sided use of the list.

The petition, supported by women’s rights groups, argued that blacklisting invades her privacy and undermines gender equality, since adultery regulations for men are far less restrictive. Blacklisting also infringes on her right to form a family, the petition said.

The petitioners also said the rabbinical courts are not authorized to rule on adultery issues in matters of consensual divorce.

Rabbinical judges receive a list of names from the marriage registrar in each rabbinical court. The list enables these judges to prevent women they deem adulterous from marrying the man they had the affair with.

It also allows the court to prevent a woman who is found to be “adulterous” to wed her lawful husband at the time, should the couple get divorced and want to remarry.

The lists also include men who were found adulterous. However, men are only prohibited from marrying the woman they had had an affair with if she was married to someone else at the time.

The rabbinical courts use the blacklists without a clear process of establishing evidence of adultery.

Following the debates on this case Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who is also president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, issued a new version of the instructions regarding adulterous spouses. According to the new instructions, evidence will be required before a spouse may be classified as adulterous. All the parties, including the spouses and the third party involved in the affair, may now argue their case before the court.

Former Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, who headed the panel hearing the petition, said the new instructions are very similar to the principles proposed by the petitioners.

He stated that the new instructions ensure the right of everyone involved to argue their case. He also said the new regulations "create symmetry" between men and women in the way that they are worded.

The groups that backed the petition argued that the new instructions aren't enough.

“Blacklisting women due to allegations against them is a serious blow to their dignity and civil rights. The instructions do not prevent the grave infringement of human rights,” said attorney Susan Weiss, executive director of the Center for Women’s Justice, which helped file the petition.

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