Rabbinical Court Awards Custody to Suspected Abuser Because Mother Lives With a non-Jew

Rabbi rules in father’s favor because mother lives in U.S. and 'isn’t interested in the Jewish religion.'

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Rabbi Eliyahu Abergil.
Rabbi Eliyahu Abergil.Credit: Lior Mizrahi / BauBau
Sharon Pulwer
Sharon Pulwer

A rabbinical court in Jerusalem has awarded permanent custody to a father whose two children had been removed from his home by the welfare services because the mother of the children, who lives in the United States, “lives with a non-Jew and isn’t interested in the Jewish religion.”

The ruling in July by Rabbi Eliyahu Abergil was made without getting any input from the mother, who has lived in the U.S. for eight years and whom the father insists has cut off contact with the children, a charge the mother denies. She insists that no attempt was made by the rabbinical court to reach her before issuing his ruling. Apparently she has filed suit in a family court to get custody of the children, but the rabbinical court relied on the father’s statement that the mother was making no claims on them.

In his ruling, Abergil wrote, “After the comments of the husband and father, and in the absence of the mother, who has lived in the U.S. for eight years and maintains no contact with the husband and father, and [given that ] a letter from an American rabbinical court states that she is living with a gentile and has a son with him and she is not interested in the religion of Moshe and Israel, and even denigrates the Jewish religion – so they have written – it is clear that the custody and education of the children should rest with the father.”

Abergil did not seek any expert evaluation of the father’s parenting abilities, even though the welfare authorities had removed the children from his home two months before the ruling and brought them to an emergency center, where they are currently living, on suspicion they were suffering neglect.

The father had been given temporary custody of the children earlier this year, after claiming that the mother had converted to Christianity and he feared his children would not be raised as Jews. During those hearings the court did seek to contact the mother through an American rabbi who knows both parties, but only with regard to the divorce the husband was seeking at the same time, not with regard to custody.

Now the mother plans to ask that this latest decision be reversed because it was reached in her absence. Moreover, she claims that since the U.S. authorities recognize her as divorced, the rabbinical court has no jurisdiction in the matter at all. The children will remain in the emergency center until further notice.

The Rabbinical Courts Administration said in response, “Rabbinical court files on family matters are classified and there is a ban on publishing their content. The court rules on every request in accordance with the evidence it has. A party that is dissatisfied with a ruling is permitted to object through the regular appeal procedures.”

In June, according to Ynet, Abergil ruled that children who were staying with their mother in a battered women’s shelter were considered “children without a framework” and that the children should be transferred to the father’s custody. He reportedly made this ruling in response to a petition by the battered woman to force her ex-husband to pay child support.

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