In First, Israel Allows Criminal Proceedings Against Religious Men Who Refuse to Divorce Wives

State prosecutor looks to increase pressure on get refusers by toughening criminal sanctions and allowing for overseas extradition

Jerusalem Rabbinical Court
Tali Mayer

In a first for Israel, rabbinical judges in Jerusalem and Haifa recently approved the opening of criminal proceedings against men who refused to grant their wives a get (religious divorce), acting upon instructions from State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan to increase the pressure on the men.

Rabbinical courts will now be able to sentence divorce refusers to imprisonment alongside criminals as opposed to civil law offenders. They will also be able to request the extradition of get refusers who have fled overseas.

The decision was made as a result of two difficult cases the rabbinical court has been grappling with.

The first concerns a woman, Zvia Gordetsky, who has been refused a divorce for 17 years, with her husband subsequently being imprisoned for 16 of those years by the rabbinical court.

The case has surpassed all the sanctions the rabbinical court can impose, including imprisonment with other civil law prisoners and solitary confinement, still without success.

The other case concerns a couple from the United States that was vacationing in Israel when the woman applied for a get. When the husband refused, he was sent to prison, where he has remained for 3.5 years.

Rabbinical court managers say the trend of using criminal proceedings will now continue, and that other get refusers are expected to face criminal proceedings.

The opening of criminal proceedings can be carried out in cases where the court rules that all of the rabbinical court’s sanctions was exhausted and there was no other way to make the man grant a get.

The rabbinical court can appeal to the State Prosecutor’s Office to open criminal proceedings 60 days after deciding to “force a get” in the case.

Zvia Gordetsky’s husband has refused to grant her a divorce for the last 17 years
Emil Salman

With the opening of criminal proceedings, the court is able to sentence get refusers to a maximum of four years in prison. If the husband continues to refuse, a similar four-year punishment could be handed down again. In addition, get refusers won’t spend time on prison wings with inmates who are serving sentences for civil law violations but with other criminal offenders, which will affect the “quality” of their prison term and increase pressure on them.

Another key issue is the possibility of opening extradition proceedings against get refusers who have fled overseas – which currently accounts for most cases in Israel.

Some 150 cases are currently open in Israel against get refusers, of whom 130 have absconded abroad. Another 10 cases concern get refusers who are living in Israel, while a further 10 are against those who are already in Israeli jails.

The courts also have 10 cases on their books against husbands whose whereabouts are unknown.

Rabbinical Court Executive Director Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi called the move “an important step in our steadfast struggle against the phenomenon of get refusal. My hope is that this step will lead to the maximal reduction of this phenomenon and allow the future extradition of husbands who fled Israel.”