The father of a US citizen who has denied his wife a “get,” a Jewish writ of divorce, for more than 14 years will avoid a jail sentence for the time being the Supreme Court of Justice ruled on Monday, although his ban from leaving Israel will remain in place.
The case involves an American haredi couple with two children who came on a family trip to Israel 14 years ago.
During their vacation, the wife suffered a stroke that left her permanently disabled, and her husband subsequently abandoned her and their children in Israel, returned to the US and has refused to grant her a divorce ever since.
The Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court ruled almost three years ago that the man was obligated to grant her a get, but he ignored the ruling.
When the rabbinical court and its investigative department began to investigate the man’s motivation for refusing his wife a get for such a long period of time, it discovered that the man’s father – a well-known and wealthy haredi businessman – was supporting and backing his son in his refusal to grant a divorce.
When the man’s parents visited Israel in 2015, the rabbinical court issued an order banning them from leaving the country, confiscated their passports and eventually issued an unprecedented ruling in which the father was sentenced to 30 days in prison for backing his son’s divorce refusal.
“It is he [the father] who is the central and active figure behind the captive situation of his daughter-in-law, due to his son,” ruled the court. “He can extend her captivity if he wishes, or shorten it and, therefore, appropriate and suitable sanctions must be issued against him.”
Although the rabbinical courts are empowered to impose various sanctions, including prison time, against recalcitrant husbands, it was the first time they had imposed such sanctions on someone other than the recalcitrant party.
The father appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, claiming the rabbinical courts did not have the right to penalize him since he was not the recalcitrant party.
During Monday’s hearing, the wife’s lawyers announced that she was willing to forfeit all claims to child support and other financial arrangements, and had agreed to allow the father to see the children whenever he wants, as long as he granted her a divorce.
At the end of the hearing, the justices, headed by Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, requested that the father’s lawyer, Eliad Shraga, head of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, travel to the US to try and convince the man to grant a divorce according to these terms. The court gave Shraga 21 days to resolve the matter.
According to Shraga, Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, Israel Prize laureate and founder and director of the Migdal Ohr network of educational institutes, had himself traveled to the US to try and convince the son to grant a get but he had still refused, saying he did not care if his father would go to jail.
However, sources in the rabbinical courts administration said that the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court has “unambiguous evidence that the father is the element ‘chaining’ the woman,” and is exerting pressure on his son not to give the divorce.
The case is scheduled to return to the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court once the 21 days expire.
Yad L’Isha, the women’s rights group representing the woman, welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling not to allow the father to leave the country, but said that it appeared the case would not be resolved in the near future.