AG Orders Probe of Rabbis Who Divorced Mentally Disabled Woman

Four Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court judges suspected of giving divorce to woman without her knowledge.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has ordered a rare criminal investigation of four rabbinical court judges suspected of giving a divorce to a mentally disabled woman without her knowledge or consent.

All four dayanim continue to serve on the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, where they handle thousands of divorce cases every year. The four - Dov Domb, Avidan Yitzhak Halevy, Yitzhak Almaliah and Zvi Ben Yaakov - are all senior members of the court.

The incident under investigation, first reported in Haaretz last month, began in January 2007, with the marriage of two mentally disabled people. Sometime after the wedding, the groom's father decided he wanted the marriage ended and sought help from an in-law, who happened to be Domb's brother-in-law.

The brother-in-law took the couple to the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, but according to the divorced woman, he did not tell her the true purpose of the visit. Instead, he said they were going to sign application forms for public housing.

The judicial ombudsman later investigated the case, in response to a complaint from the Na'amat women's organization, and found that the brother-in-law had given Domb a blank form bearing only a signature - which turned out to be the brother-in-law's rather than the groom's. Based on this form, Domb opened divorce proceedings and asked the couple to sign the necessary forms. Later that same day, acting with almost unprecedented speed, the court granted the divorce.

The judicial ombudsman later concluded that the other three dayanim, who signed off on the divorce decree "without taking any of the steps necessitated by a proceeding of this type and the nature of the litigants," had done so as a favor to Domb.

Despite queries to the office of the president of the Rabbinical Court of Appeals, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the dayanim's responses could not be obtained Tuesday night.

The above case is not the only complaint that has been filed about Domb: About nine months ago, another woman complained to the judicial ombudsman that he summoned her to his house in Bnei Brak, without her husband present, and spent three hours trying to convince her to agree to the husband's divorce request. The ombudsman found the woman's complaint justified.

In a letter to Rabbi Amar, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, Domb wrote, "The exceptional difficulty of conducting negotiations between the sides led the court to think it would be appropriate to meet with the woman and her parents out of court, on the assumption that in a less pressured, rigid and loaded atmosphere than that of the court, the chances of persuading the woman to soften her positions would be greater."

However, he denied having exerted any pressure on the woman, and insisted that neither she nor her parents had complained about the meeting at the time.

The judicial ombudsman, however, said that for a judge to meet one party to a case without the other present is inappropriate without very good reason, which did not exist in this case, as it could damage the public's faith in the justice system.