Israel's High Court Delays Detention of Recalcitrant Father-in-law

Man whose son refuses to grant his wife a divorce given permission to appeal to Supreme Rabbinical Court.

Rabbinate courtroom in Jerusalem.
Tali Mayer

The High Court of Justice has delayed the implementation of a detention order against a man whose son, now living abroad, has refused to grant his wife a get (Jewish divorce) since 2005.

Under an order by the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, the father of the recalcitrant husband was supposed to serve a 30-day jail sentence starting tomorrow, but Court President Miriam Naor on Monday gave the man’s attorneys another few days to appeal the order to the Supreme Rabbinical Court. The case may yet come to the High Court afterward.

The unprecedented detention was ordered last week in a case of recalcitrance that the rabbinical court judges described as “cruel,” and “one of the harshest cases of igun [being ‘chained’ to a recalcitrant husband] the rabbinical court system has ever had to deal with.”

The ultra-Orthodox couple with two children was visiting Israel in 2005 when the wife suffered a serious stroke. Her husband fled to the United States, abandoning her and the children, and went into hiding, protected by his family and the Haredi community to which he belongs. He has ignored several rabbinic court rulings ordering him to divorce his wife.

When his parents made a visit to Israel recently, they were summoned to the rabbinical court to respond to allegations that they are playing a major role in hiding him and in his refusal to divorce his wife and pay her alimony. Their passports were confiscated to pressure them to appear. After a series of hearings and investigations, the rabbinical court, headed by Rabbi Shlomo Shatsman, determined that the father, “is a central and active factor behind the chaining of his daughter-in-law through his son’s recalcitrance,” and ordered him imprisoned for 30 days. The parents argue that the rabbinical court has no authority to impose a prison term on the father.

In an interview with Hebrew Haaretz published on Friday, the abandoned wife said of the detention order: “I have nothing else to go on. It’s the only thing I have left. In effect, I really had no [options] until now. This is the first and last chance they’re giving me.”

The father’s attorneys, Eliad Shraga and Yael Nagar, were pleased at Naor’s decision. “The decision by the rabbinical court was improper by any legal or moral measure. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and you can’t punish a father for his son’s transgressions. When all the facts are revealed, there’s no doubt that the High Court will overturn the rabbinical court ruling unequivocally and finally.”

The Rabbinic Courts Administration yesterday released its annual report for 2015, which shows that during last year the courts issued 23 imprisonment orders against get-refusers, compared to 30 in 2014. In addition, there were 165 court rulings against 47 recalcitrant spouses that included restraining orders against their leaving the country, suspension of drivers’ licenses and the like. In 2014 there were 191 rulings against 40 recalcitrant spouses. There were 11,114 divorces in 2015, compared to 11,023 in 2014.