For Better or Worse? Record Number of Israeli Divorces in '08

The divorce rate for Jewish couples in the country hit a record high last year, topping 10,000 for the first time.

Among Jewish Israelis, 10,225 couples said "I don't" in 2008 - a 4.7-percent increase over the previous year, the rabbinical courts administration said yesterday. That works out to an average of 28 Jewish families per day that broke the knot.

Although largely religious areas tended to have few divorces, some saw quite sharp jumps in the divorce rate. The rate in Modi'in Ilit skyrocketed 120 percent, while that in Efrat surged 83 percent and in Elad 80 percent. There was a more moderate increase in Bnei Brak, of 13 percent.

Modi'in, meanwhile, is not a great place to stay married. It had 125 divorces last year, a rise of nearly 24 percent since 2007. Herzliya didn't fare too well either. It had a lower, but still steep, rise of 18 percent to 177 divorces.

But Tel Aviv edged out the competition, staying in the lead in terms of the sheer number of divorces - 817, a 7-percent increase.

Indeed, most major cities in the country saw a rise in the divorce rate last year. The rate in Haifa increased 13 percent over 2007, in Rishon Letzion 12 percent, in Jerusalem 10 percent and in Be'er Sheva 4 percent.

Most couples get divorced in the first five to 10 years of marriage, said Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the administrative head of the rabbinical courts. "That's the difficult period," he said.

The Tzohar organization of religious Zionist rabbis said it was concerned about the "erosion of the family unit" and called on parties running in the general election to put the divorce issue on the public agenda. It also announced a plan to establish couplehood and parenthood courses.

Meanwhile, some 180 women remain unable to remarry because their husbands will not grant them a Jewish divorce - and neither will the rabbinical courts, the only institutions in the country with the power to authorize marriage and divorce for Jewish couples. However, 130 women who had been in the same position got divorced last year. In 73 cases the rabbinical courts ruled in favor of imposing sanctions on husbands who refuse to grant a divorce, a slight decrease from the 76 such cases in 2007.

Among Jewish couples who do get divorced, 69 percent finalize the proceedings within three months from the date they open their rabbinical court files.