In First, Israel Punishes Woman for Refusing to Grant Husband a Divorce

Education Ministry suspends Haifa teacher following rabbinical court ruling ■ Woman may face fines and incarceration after denying her spouse a divorce for eight years

Noa Shpigel
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The Haifa Regional Rabbinical Court.
The Haifa Regional Rabbinical Court.Credit: Doron Golan/ Jini
Noa Shpigel

The Haifa Regional Rabbinical Court has decided for the first time in the history of the struggle against get refusers – men and women who refuse to grant a bill of divorce to their spouses under Jewish law – to slap serious sanctions against one such recalcitrant wife.

Following the court order, the Education Ministry suspended the woman in question, a teacher living in Haifa, from her teaching post until she agrees to grant a divorce to her husband.

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The court also ruled that as long as the woman remains unwilling to give her spouse a divorce it will inflict further sanctions on her such as fines, the publishing of her name (with the purpose of outing and thus shaming the woman) and even a jail sentence.

The teacher's husband filed his request for divorce over eight years ago and has since been pleading with the woman to grant him a get, a Jewish ritual divorce — to no avail.  

The rabbinical court in Haifa, headed by Rabbi Yitzchak Oshinsky, has previously made 285 decisions concerning this case, the majority of which revolve around the man's repeated pleas to get a divorce and his wife's adamant refusal.

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Unlike other areas of the law, marriage and divorce in Israel are under the jurisdiction of the religious courts of the community to which the spouses belong. Under Orthodox Jewish law, implemented in Israel in the areas of personal status, divorce requires the consent of both husband and wife, which enables either side to thwart a divorce. 

In this case, the court had already decided two years ago to impose restraining orders against the woman after she refused to abide by the court ruling obligating her to agree to a divorce. The restraining orders were approved by the chief of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, as required when restraining orders are issued against women.

The restraining orders came into effect three months ago and include: a permanent stay of exit order; preventing the woman from receiving a passport; preventing the woman from receiving or possessing a driver's license; preventing the woman from being appointed to serve in a public post; preventing the woman from engaging in a legal profession or working at a licensed business; limiting her banking privileges.

After finalizing the decision the rabbinical court in Haifa contacted the Education Ministry, which employs the woman, and stated that "seeing as the defendant is employed by the Education Ministry in a teaching position, a copy of this decision must be transferred to the Education Ministry and the ministry must report back to the court within 14 days regarding the implementation of sanctions against the defendant."  

Two weeks after the court approached the ministry, the latter announced that it has decided to implement the restraining order and not allow the woman to continue teaching.

A statement released by the Education Ministry stated: "It is the ministry's duty to implement as written the restraining order issued by the rabbinical court by virtue of its authority anchored in law. This comes despite the financial difficulty involved in preventing the woman from working until she fulfills the indictment of the rabbinical court."

The statement also read: "The woman is being placed on unpaid leave from her work as a teacher until the rabbinical court decides otherwise, due to the duty to execute a legal instruction given by the rabbinical court."

The Regional Rabbinical Court in Haifa said it perceived the Education Ministry's statement as an important step toward bringing the woman to agree to grant her husband the get.

Judges at the Haifa court decided that following the recent procedures, the "woman is allowed to request a date to grant [her husband] a get without facing any preconditions."

Nonetheless, the judges said that if they don't receive a request from the woman to coordinate a date for her to grant her spouse a divorce, the court will consider worsening the restraining orders against the defendant or imposing additional sanctions.