Chief Rabbi David Lau: Divorce Should Be Granted Before Division of Assets

Chief Rabbi David Lau has reiterated a much-praised stance he took in a recent divorce case which came before the Supreme Rabbinical Court, asserting that it is legitimate for rabbinical judges to require a divorce be given before an agreement on the division of a couple’s assets is reached.

Earlier this month, Lau siting as a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, demanded that a husband who had refused to give his wife a bill of divorce for eight years, finally grant her the divorce before an agreement on division of the assets was reached.

The many thousands of incidents of divorce refusal which take place in Israel are in the majority cases in which the spouse, usually the husband but not uncommonly the wife, demand favorable terms in the division of assets as a condition for acceding to the divorce.

Jewish law requires that a husband willingly give his wife a bill of divorce, and that the wife willingly accept it, in order for a marriage to be terminated.

Because in Jewish law a woman may not re-marry and have children without a bill of divorce, women seeking a divorce are frequently extorted by their husbands to concede to his demands in the division of assets and other ancillary matters to the divorce

Speaking on Sunday, the chief rabbi reiterated that there is no reason that reaching an agreement on assets is necessary before the bill of divorce is granted.

“When the rabbinical court can see that the marriage is over, that the marriage has become empty of all content, then there is no justification to continue arguing about the assets before dealing with the divorce,” said Lau.

The chief rabbi explained that there is no need for a husband to insist on an agreement regarding assets before giving giving a bill of divorce, and that he could be confident that if his claims to property were indeed valid they would be respected after granting the divorce.

“The rights to property held by the husband are not changed by giving a bill of divorce. The husband will have the same exactly the same rights after the bill of divorce is given as he had before,” Lau said.

The rabbi’s statement’s during the rabbinical court hearing this month demanding that the husband grant the bill of divorce before a division of the assets was warmly welcomed by women’s rights groups as a milestone in their efforts to prevent the extortion of women in divorce proceedings.

However, Lau’s approach in this case is not unprecedented and has actually been implemented in different cases in the regional rabbinical courts in recent years.

Lau noted this himself saying that he believed the regional courts had in part already adopted this approach. He said though that the lower rabbinical courts do look at the approach of the Supreme Rabbinical Court as a guide to the inclination of their own rulings.

“The regional rabbinical courts to the Supreme Rabbinical Cour for the ‘spirit of the commander,” Lau observed.

Attorney Batya Kehana-Dror, the director of the divorce rights organization Mavoi Satum, praised Lau for the decision, saying that it showed that there was no valid relationship between an agreement on division of assets and the divorce itself.

“If this is the approach that the rabbinical courts will adopt then we will solve the problem of divorce refusal,” she said. “It means that if a rabbinical court has issues a ruling ordering a divorce to be granted then there is no reason to listen to the conditions set out by the husband. The court order to issue a bilion divorce has to be implemented.”

Kehana-Dror said however that the majority of rabbinical judges currently do not take this approach to divorce recalcitrance and also fail to use the various sanctions at the disposal of the rabbinical courts against recalcitrant partners, such as revocation of driving licenses and passports and even imprisonment.

In his comments, Lau said that sanctions were used by the rabbinical courts, but said that they were not always employed because at times advocates for the use of sanctions in a specific divorce dispute “sometimes cannot see both sides of the issue” whereas the rabbinical court “sees the entire picture.”

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