Israeli Rabbinical Court Okays Divorce Settlement That Bars Woman From Filing Rape Charges Against Ex

Woman’s lawyer calls deal ‘extortion,’ demands investigation against the rabbinical court judges for possible obstruction of justice

Aaron Rabinowitz
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ILLUSTRATION: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court
ILLUSTRATION: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court Credit: Lior Mizrahi
Aaron Rabinowitz

A rabbinical court in Israel approved an agreement that conditioned the granting of a get, the Jewish legal divorce decree, on the woman not going to the police to file a complaint for alleged rape by her soon-to-be ex-husband.

The Jerusalem Rabbinical Court approved the agreement that the two sides agreed on that requires the woman not to file a complaint with the police against her ex-husband for rape and other violent acts he allegedly committed against her while they were married.

“The ruling seemingly raises a suspicion of the crimes of obstruction of justice and extortion,” wrote the woman’s new attorney, Batya Kahana-Dror, in a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Wednesday. Kahana-Dror asked Mendelblit to open a criminal investigation against the head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Yosef Goldberg, and the two other dayanim (religious court judges) who heard the case and approved the agreement.

The couple was married for five years. In 2015, the woman filed a request for a divorce with the rabbinical court, saying her husband had raped her and acted violently toward her and their two children. After a few sessions in the rabbinical court, a divorce agreement was signed last year between the two. The agreement, which Haaretz has obtained, states: “at the husband’s request, the woman will not submit any complaint to the police on past events.”   

The rabbinical court is still holding hearings on the custody and visitation rights for the children and the alimony obligations.

Kahana-Dror called on Mendelblit to open an investigation against Goldberg and the two other dayanim, Rabbi David Bardougo and Rabbi Mordechai Ralbag, as well as opening impeachment proceedings against all three.

The rabbinical court put pressure on the woman to sign the agreement, and she did so out of fear that she would remain an aguna, a woman whose husband refuses to grant her a Jewish divorce and is then prohibited from remarrying until he does so, said Kahana-Dror. 

The agreement was drafted by the couple's attorney with Goldberg, the head of the Beit Din, who took an active part in its writing and editing. Once finished, Goldberg signed the agreement and it received the status of a ruling, decreeing that the woman must follow these conditions to receive a get.   

An extreme example

Kahana-Dror is the director of the Mavoi Satum nonprofit organization, which provides legal and emotional support to agunot, women who have been refused a Jewish divorce. The woman was represented during the divorce proceedings by a different lawyer and Kahana-Dror has represented her since the agreement was signed.   

She called to put an end to the exploitative agreements the rabbinical courts endorse in return for the husband granting a get. “This case is an extreme example in which the court is willing to violate the law” just so the husband will agree to sign the divorce. Any condition required for the granting of the get, whether it is the woman’s agreement not to sue in civil court, a demand for lower alimony or moving the case form the civil family court to the rabbinical court –  is illegal extortion unrelated to the divorce, said Kahana-Dror. 

The Rabbinical Courts administration said the couple drew up the divorce agreement a long time ago, 18 months after negotiations between the couple and their lawyers. Both sides agreed between them on the content of the agreement and dictated it to the court. The legal procedure for approving the agreement was conducted by Rabbi Goldberg as the sole judge, with the agreement of both parties, said the courts administration.

Rabbi Goldberg was not presented with any evidence supporting claims of rape or violence, and he believed that the case ran the risk of the woman being left an agunah, said the courts administration. That is why, after ascertaining that the woman had legal representation and had agreed of her own will to the content of the agreement, and that she understood its full consequences, he preferred to approve the agreement without intervening in the matter, said the courts.

In addition, the rabbinical courts said the dayan decided not to intervene in the agreement because of additional clauses they said were important to the woman and had been reached after a long and bitter legal fight. They also noted that she did not express any opposition to the section in question.

“At the end of the case, the woman and her attorney expressed their thanks to Rabbi Goldberg for his devoted handling of the matter,” said the courts.  Finally, the court said the matter has only now been “raised from the dead” because of the woman’s change in representation and as part of Kahana-Dror’s” battles against the Rabbinical Courts.”    

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