In First, Israeli Court Convicts Man for Refusing to Grant His Wife a Divorce

Verdict comes after man rejected his wife's request for more than 20 years

The Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem
Olivier Fitoussi

A court in Jerusalem convicted a man Sunday of violating a legal order for refusing, for more than 20 years, to grant his wife a divorce, creating a new legal precedent in Israel.

The maximum punishment for the offense is four years in prison. The filing of the criminal charges last September against the man by the Jerusalem police prosecutor's office was also a precedent.

Judge Yaron Mientkavich of the Jerusalem Magistrate Court rejected all the husband’s arguments, including his claim of selective enforcement.

"The sheer span of time during which the husband held firm and refused to comply with the divorce order, and the fact that sitting in prison for 18 years did not lead him to comply with the order, distinguishes the case before me and justifies the indictment, even if this is not a routine step,” the judge wrote.

Mientkavich added that he does not intend to impose a harsh sentence on the conviction because it involves a new precedent.

According to the indictment, Meir Gorodetzky, 61 and his wife, Zvia, were married for 26 years. They began divorce proceedings in 1998, but M. refused to give his wife a bill of divorce, or "get" as it is referred to in Jewish religious law. It was then decided to arrest him every few weeks until he relented and gave his wife the bill of divorce, but that did not produce results and since 2000, he ha remained in custody, including periodic isolation, on orders of the rabbinical court.

After the indictment was filed, the wife stated that she did not view herself as married. She had been granted a divorce by a private rabbinical court in the United States, but it was not recognized by the Israeli rabbinate. M. resisted throughout, despite being moved to prisons with onerous conditions, and after being placed in isolation several times. In 2016 the authorities took away his personal belongings and he was placed in detention under the same conditions as murderers and sex offenders. At one hearing, the court even urged the Knesset to amend the law to permit physical coercion to be applied to get him to relent.

The rabbinate deems M.'s case one of the most difficult cases of its kind. The rabbinate, which controls matters of divorce between Jews in Israel, has been known to resort to imprisonment to persuade husbands to grant a "get," but this was the first case in which a criminal proceeding was instituted, in a joint effort by the rabbinical courts, the Justice Ministry, the prosecutor's office and the Israel Police.