Israel Investigates Parents of Hasidic Man Denying Wife Divorce

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A demonstration in support of 'chained wives.'Credit: Pierre Terdjman / BauBau

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has ordered a criminal investigation against the parents of a man hiding abroad and denying his wife a divorce on suspicion they are abetting a crime by helping their son violate a ruling of an Israeli rabbinical court.

While it’s doubtful the move will break the husband and gain D., his wife, her freedom, it's the second legal precedent being set in this so-called chained-wife case that began in 2005.

In March, the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court ordered the father jailed for 30 days on grounds that he was using his wealth and connections in the Erlau Hasidic community to support his son’s recalcitrance.

In response to a petition by the father, the High Court of Justice delayed execution of that decision, but the director of the rabbinical courts asked Mendelblit for his position in the case.

Now Mendelblit is demanding an investigation. “There is a significant public interest in giving tools to deal with the great distress of agunot and the serious harm to their freedom and dignity,” he said, referring to so-called chained women – women whose husbands won’t divorce them.

According to Prof. Aviad Hacohen, the dean of the Academic Center of Law and Science, who represented D. at the High Court, Mendelblit’s move is a revolutionary one. He said this was the first time a serious effort was being made to bring criminal law to bear against a divorce refusal.

“Although in the past divorce deniers have been imprisoned, that was under the special laws involving the authority of the rabbinical courts, not using the power of general criminal procedures,” Hacohen said.

“Intelligent use of criminal law can make a significant contribution to advancing the cases of those refused a divorce and finding an appropriate way to release them.”

On Wednesday, the family said Mendelblit's and the rabbinical courts’ decision was commendable.

“But it’s irrelevant to this case because it has not been proved in any way that the elderly father, who is not in touch with his son, is behind the latter’s refusal to divorce his wife," it said in a statement. "On the contrary, he proved that he tried to influence his son in the past to divorce his wife.”

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