Religious Courts: Society Must Shun Divorce-deniers

A young, bearded man in the garb of a Lithuanian yeshiva student looks straight into the camera in a photograph hanging on a wall in the busy center of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula, and in the ultra-Orthodox section of Brooklyn. Smiling, Israel Meir Briksman does not fit the image of a wanted man. Yet the text that goes with the picture, so unusual on the Orthodox street, states that an arrest warrant has been issued against Briksman by the High Rabbinic Court and he is to be shunned by the community, because that is what should be done to a man who does not grant his wife a get, a religious divorce.

The denouncing of a man for refusing to grant a get can be a major deterrent in ultra-Orthodox society, but so far the religious courts have been loathe to apply it.

However about a month ago, Briksman's picture was released on the Web site of the rabbinic court, alongside photographs of other men who have refused to give their wives divorces.

What is common to Briksman and the other men is that they have disappeared. The purpose of publishing their picture is to obtain the public's assistance in finding them, as well as to warn others from taking a similar step.

In Briksman's case, religious court judges Hagai Izirer and Avraham Sherman, who are not considered particularly strict when it comes to enforcing a get, ordered that Briksman be so treated. The verdict, handed down in July and published in ultra-Orthodox newspapers and on wall posters in Israel and abroad about three weeks ago, stated that he should not be allowed to attend prayers on the High Holy Days.

There is nothing unusual in the verdict. What is unusual is its publication and the attempt to enforce it. It is intended to prevent the husband from receiving any economic assistance or other asstance until he "fulfills the verdict and gives a get to his wife," the verdict states.

After the verdict was released, the relatives and friends of D., the wife who has been refused a divorce, staged a protest in front of the synagogue in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood where the husband's father is the rabbi. "We didn't shout. It was a quiet and painful protest," the wife said.

D., 30, an administrator in an ultra-Orthodox college, has been aguna, or "chained" - as a woman whose husband refuses to grant her a divorce is called - for a year. Until now she prefered to keep a low profile, but now that her husband's picture has been published, she says there is no point.

About three and a half years ago, after eight bitter years of marriage and two children, D. turned to the rabbinic court and asked for a divorce. The struggle between the Briksmans in the court revolved mainly around custody of the couple's son. At first the court ordered joint custody, but because the father lives in Jerusalem and the mother in Bnei Brak, the child was constantly moved back and forth between two homes and two schools. The court then decided to give custody of the child to the father. But a year later the boy was found to be neglected emotionally and physically, and was returned to the mother.

Israel Briksman then disappeared. "He said that if he didn't get his son, he would never give me a get," D. said.

Since the pictures of the men were published, one has already come out of hiding and given his wife a divorce. But D., who believes her husband is in the United States, says, "I don't think salvation will come from this publication in the U.S. It's a big country and there are enough communities where he can hide, and the main thing is that his family supports him."