In First, Israeli Court Convicts Husband Refusing to Grant Wife Divorce of Criminal Offense

Meir Gorodetzky is sentenced to 15 months in prison – on top of the 18 years he already spent in prison on a civil offense

File photo: An ultra-Orthodox man walks by the rabbinical court in Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

A man was convicted of a crime and sentenced to 15 months in prison on Tuesday for refusing to grant his wife a get, or a Jewish bill of divorce – the first criminal case and sentence against a divorce refuser in Israel.

Meir Gorodetzky has spent the last 18 years in prison on the orders of the rabbinical court for refusing to give his wife Zvia a Halakhic divorce, but the court’s order was a civil, not criminal, proceeding.

Three weeks ago, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court convicted Gorodetzky of violating the law for refusing to give his wife a divorce for over 20 years. In addition to the 15 months in prison, he also received seven months on probation. The maximum sentence for the crime of violating a court order is two years in prison.

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The rabbinical court praised the ruling, saying it was a “historic day,” but said the court and the State Prosecutor’s Office intended to appeal the decision and sentence, calling it too lenient. “Grodetzky’s conviction and sentence were made possible as a result of a decision of the attorney general from 2016, according to which not following a requirement to grant a get has a criminal aspect, and this enabled the unprecedented sentence,” said the rabbinical court.

Gorodetzky, who is 61, was married to Zvia for 26 years. The indictment states that they began divorce proceedings in 1998, but he refused to grant her a get. It was then decided to arrest him every few weeks until he relented and gave his wife the bill of divorce, but that did not produce results. Since 2000, he has remained in custody, including spending periods of time in solitary confinement, on orders of the rabbinical court.

Gorodetzky resisted, despite being moved to prisons with onerous conditions. In 2016 the authorities took away his personal belongings and he was placed in detention under the same conditions as murderers and sex offenders. At one hearing, the court even urged the Knesset to amend the law to permit the use of physical coercion to get him to relent.

After the indictment was filed, Zvia stated that she did not see herself as married. She had been granted a divorce by a private rabbinical court in the United States, but it was not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate.

The Rabbinate has called the Gorodetzky case one of the most difficult of its kind. The organization, which controls matters of divorce between Jews in Israel, has been known to resort to imprisonment to persuade husbands to grant their wives a divorce, but this was the first case which, in a joint effort by the rabbinical courts, the Justice Ministry, the State Prosecutor's Office and the police, went through a criminal proceeding.