Israeli Rabbinic Court Rejects Appeal of Jail Sentence by Father of Divorce-refuser

Rules that father showed contempt of court by pressuring son not to divorce wife by Jewish law.

Outside the Jerusalem rabbinical court.
Tess Scheflan

Israel’s Chief Rabbinic Court rejected the appeal of a man sentenced to 30 days in jail for playing a central role in pressuring his son to refuse to grant a get, or Jewish bill of divorce, to his own wife, in line with a previous court order to divorce his wife according to Jewish law.

The court in Tel Aviv ruled the father in Israel has helped his son, who lives in the United States, keep her an agunah – or “chained woman,” by which she is unable to remarry – for a decade. The main hurdle before the precedent-setting ruling to punish the father awaits it in the High Court of Justice, where his attorney, Eliad Shraga, will argue that the rabbinic court acted without authority.

However, the unequivocal ruling states it was proved that “the petitioner indeed stands behind his son’s refusal to release his wife with a get and pressures his son to violate a judicial order.” The court fined the father 90,000 shekels ($23,600) for his daughter-in-law’s court costs.

The court described the case as one of the toughest agunah cases seen in Israel. The Hasidic couple lived with their children in New York. The woman and two of their children visited Israel, where she suffered a severe stroke, leaving her paralyzed. The husband abandoned her, and tried hard for years though his family, which has ties with rabbis and influential people, to get permission to remarry without having to divorce her.

The court ruled years ago that the husband first has to give his wife a get, but he ignored the ruling, prompting a contempt of court case. Because the husband was abroad, the court at a certain point decided to punish the father, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem, because he was “the living spirit” behind the refusal, sentencing him to 30 days in jail. The punishment was postponed due to the appeal.

Attorney Shraga raised a host of claims on appeal, among them that it had not been proven the son was obeying the father regarding the get refusal, and there was no justifying punishing the father for the acts of the son, with whom he has sporadic contact.

The judges, Rabbi Eliezer Igra, Rabbi Michael Amos and Rabbi Eliyahu Heishrik, ruled it was enough that the father encourages and supports his son to constitute prevention of giving the get, and to justify punishing the father for contempt of court. They referred to the son as a “marionette” in the father’s hands.

The court rejected opinions that relatives of the father obtained from former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, which claimed that the court was not authorized to punish relatives of the one refusing to give the get. The court noted that Amar had been asked about a particular situation, in which the person posing the question omitted the main issues. “In contrast, the court had all the testimonies and evidence pointing toward a completely different reality,” the court ruled.