The Rabbinical Courts Administration has been instructed by the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court to discuss opening a criminal investigation with the attorney general into the father of a man who is refusing to grant his wife a divorce.
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The father is allegedly facilitating his son's refusal to agree to a get, or a Jewish bill of divorce. The judges of the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court say the father is suspected of undermining government procedure, contempt of court, obstructing judicial proceedings and attempting to obstruct justice.
The matter involves an ultra-Orthodox couple from the United States, who visited Israel in 2005. During the trip the wife suffered a stroke and the man abandoned her and their two children and returned abroad. Since then his whereabouts are unknown; his family and the Haredi community in which he lives are reportedly helping him hide. A series of rabbinical court rulings demanding he divorce his wife have been ineffective.
The court’s examination determined that the father, a wealthy donor to ultra-Orthodox causes, “is the central and active factor behind the chaining of his daughter-in-law by his son’s refusal. He will decide whether her chained state is extended or shortened, and as such he should have proper and appropriate sanctions imposed on him.” Women whose husbands prevent them from obtaining a religious divorce are referred to as "agunot," or chained women, in Hebrew.
In an unprecedented move, when the father visited Israel last year the rabbinical court blocked him from leaving the country and ordered him jailed for 30 days. The father petitioned the High Court of Justice against his punishment, claiming that he had done all he could to persuade his son to grant the get, but to no avail. The justices sent the case back to the rabbinical court, which has now issued a ruling that essentially rejects the father’s claims.
“The court finds it proper to ask the legal department of the Rabbinical Courts Administration to submit this decision to the attorney general so he can examine whether there should be a criminal investigation, given the alleged contempt of court and obstruction of justice,” the court said.
The ruling was highly critical of the get-refuser’s family, saying that during the legal proceedings, they hired a crisis-management firm at an estimated cost of tens of thousands of dollars with the aim of discrediting the rabbinical court and trying to create a hostile attitude against the court within the Haredi and wider religious community.
“The legal proceeding is being accompanied by an aggressive media campaign that is portraying the father of the get-refuser as a ‘hostage’ and ‘bargaining chip,’ through the deliberate, tendentious and methodical distortion of the thorough work that’s been done in this serious case,” the court said.
The court also said the family tried to pressure the rabbinical court through politicians and family members in a blatantly illegal fashion.