Rabbinical judges in Jerusalem last week rejected a motion for divorce filed by a battered woman, saying that her husband had only resorted to violence because she wanted to divorce him. Accordingly, they said, his physical attack on her could not serve as grounds for divorce.
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The couple in question lives in the Jerusalem area. Last July the regional rabbinical court rejected the woman's motion to order the husband to divorce her.
Some weeks after the verdict, she complained to the police that her husband punched her in the face and bruised her shoulder. The husband admitted to the attack, expressed regret and spent 75 days in jail.
Under these new circumstances, the woman appealed the regional court’s verdict to the Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem. The appeals court returned the case to the regional court so that the rabbinical judges could deliberate on whether to rethink their initial verdict.
Although the incident had been the first record of violence in the husband’s life, it was not the last. He was indicted and found guilty twice more for violence against his wife.
However, when the regional court reconvened on February 1 with presiding Rabbis Yosef Goldberg, David Birdugo and Mordechai Ralbag, they again rejected the wife’s motion to force the husband to give her a get (religious Jewish divorce). “Unquestionably, any harm the husband causes the wife is unjustifiable in any circumstances; any violence should be treated gravely and condemned, especially severe violence like that described in the indictment,” the rabbis wrote. “But on the other hand, there is also no doubt that the husband’s eruption was due to his difficult [emotional] situation after his wife filed for divorce.”
Despite the husband’s conviction of beating his wife on three occasions, the rabbinical judges wrote that his behavior had been an aberration, that he had admitted to his mistake and “we can assume he won’t be repeating these deeds in the future.”
In a letter to the attorney general, women’s rights activist and lawyer Batya Kahane Dror and lawyer Hadas Grossman wrote that the ruling empowers men to beat their wives if they want a divorce in defiance of the man’s wishes. The two vowed to appeal the verdict, adding that it further weakens the public’s faith in the rabbinical justice system.
The appeal could create a knotty situation for Chief Rabbi David Lau, who would sit on the bench of the Rabbinical Court of Appeals – and who is the father-in-law of Rabbi Ralbag of the regional court.
The regional rabbinical court's administration responded that contrary to the woman's claim, the incident was categorically nonrecurring and the husband has no pattern of violence; he apologized and expressed remorse, and therefore the court does not see this single incident as grounds for divorce. “The woman may appeal,” the administration pointed out.