In an unprecedented step, the Supreme Rabbinical Court is weighing whether or not to allow a third party appeal against a divorce ruling that could lead to the revocation of a woman’s divorce from her husband who has been in a coma for the last nine years.
Director of the Rabbinical Courts Network Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi told TOT on Thursday that the Supreme Rabbinical Court would hold a hearing in the coming weeks on whether or not a third party who has appealed the divorce, who has no connection to the wife or the husband, has legitimate standing to do so.
If the court agrees, it will then hold a hearing on the case itself.
The 34-year-old woman’s husband was severely injured in a motorcycle accident nine years ago and has been in a coma ever since.
Jewish law stipulates that a man must freely give his wife a bill of divorce (a get) for the marriage to be formally terminated, but since an unconscious person is unable to do so this situation leaves his wife “chained” to the marriage.
In the summer of 2014, three rabbinical judges of the Safed Rabbinical Court, in consultation with the man’s doctors, ruled that there was no serious likelihood that he would ever awaken from his coma.
They then used an innovative interpretation of Jewish law concluding that they could issue a get zikui – a bill of divorce that is granted on the husband’s behalf – which he would agree to and desire to give if he could.
According to the interpretation used by the rabbinical judges, it is a positive Torah commandment to end a marriage if the husband is no longer able to fulfill his marital obligations, and he would therefore want to issue the divorce if this were the case, allowing the rabbinical judges to enact this wish.
The Safed ruling was issued by court president Rabbi Uriel Lavi, Rabbi Yosef Yagoda and Rabbi Haim Bazak, who noted in the ruling that they had based their decision on the halachic opinions and writings of two of the most authoritative rabbis of the last century: Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, known as the Hazon Ish, and Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank However, their decision was opposed by leading haredi rabbis, including Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the most senior non-hassidic rabbi in the haredi world, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.
Mavoi Satum, a divorce rights organization that represented the woman in her original case, was strongly critical of the decision to possibly re-open the case, and said it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
For the first time in the history of the State of Israel, the full Supreme Rabbinical Court will shortly convene. They will be deciding on the case of a get that was issued by the rabbinical court in Tzfat, headed by Rav Uriel Lavie, to the wife of a man who has been in a coma for the past nine years.
The question is whether a rabbinical court can grant a divorce in such a case. The Supreme Rabbinical Court is being convened by Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi and the head of the court.
It’s unclear how the court will rule. The late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former chief rabbi and father of the Yitzchak Yosef, ruled after the 1973 war that wives of soldiers who were missing in the war, with no evidence whether they were dead or alive, could be granted a divorce. This freed them from their status as agunot and allowed them to move on with their lives and remarry.
On the other hand, there is another case of a comatose husband in which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled, in a 10-page teshuvah, that there was no place granting divorce in the case of a comatose husband.