New Global Database to Target Jewish Men Refusing Wives a Divorce

A similar database has existed in Israel for eight years, and now the move to limit gett refusers is set to go global.

Agunot women protest outside the Israeli prime minister's office in Jerusalem in 2007.
Pierre Terdjman

Hoping to assist women who have been refused a divorce, Orthodox rabbis in Israel and Europe have announced plans to set up a joint database that will contain the names and photographs of their recalcitrant husbands. The purpose is to prevent these men from finding refuge and acceptance in other Jewish communities.

The new initiative was launched this week in Brussels, during a conference of rabbinical court judges from Israel and Europe.

Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, director of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts Division for Agunot (literally “chained women”), said a similar database was already created in Israel eight years ago. It would now be expanded into a much larger one that would include information provided by 30 rabbinical courts in Europe.

“This is only the first step,” he told Haaretz. “Eventually, we plan to include rabbinical courts from the United States as well.”

Maimon said it was very common for divorce refusers, often ostracized by their communities, to pick up and move elsewhere in the hope of finding acceptance. “By sharing information through this new database, we would hope to prevent the possibility of these men feeling welcome anywhere,” said Maimon.

Under Jewish law, a woman can only be divorced if her husband provides her with what is known as a gett. The Israeli database, said Maimon, contains about 180 names of divorce refusers, including men who are not Israeli nationals. “It is very dynamic though,” he said. “There are files being closed and others being opened all the time.”

Under Israeli law, the rabbinical courts are authorized to take sanctions against divorce refusers. Outside of Israel, however, they do not enjoy such power. “We know that there are still other things that can be done to help persuade a husband to give his wife a divorce,” said Maimon. “Excommunication, for example.”

“These men don’t earn anything by not giving their wives a divorce,” he added. “But if we can show them that they stand to lose, from our experience, that tends to drive the message home.”