The Chief Rabbi of the Rabbinical Court, Rabbi Eliezer Igra, referred to the issue of refusal to grant a divorce during a conference of the Bar Association.
According to Jewish law (halakha) a man must agree to grant his wife a divorce, called a get in Hebrew, in order for the divorce to be valid and the wife must accept it.
In cases where the man refuses to grant a get after attempts to bring about reconciliation between the couple have failed, there are sanctions that can be applied which are halakhically permissible and have entered the Israeli lawbooks. These include jail sentences and the confiscation of credit cards, but are not always effective.
Rabbi Igra opened his words by quoting the Rambam, according to whom “whomever the law obligates to force him to divorce his wife and he does not want to [grant the divorce], a Jewish court anywhere, and at any time, beats him until he says ‘I want to’ and we write the get and it is a legitimate get.”
According to Rabbi Igra, “In fact, Maimonides writes that if a person has to divorce, it’s a shame to keep him in jail, there’s only one thing that’s useful and I’m telling you that it’s useful, ask the Shin Bet, maybe their shaking techniques (a controverisal method of extracting information from terrorists, once used iin “ticking timebomb” situations when the Shin Bet knows an attack is about to take place but lacks necessary information, ed.) are enough. It not only saves the woman, it saves the man as well.”
“A man falls prey to some kind of delusion – thinking that in the 21st century he can hold his wife captive; he ruins his life, the life of the children, and the life of his wife. Five minutes of the violent shaking method and the problem is solved,” asserted Rabbi Igra.
Reliance on this source in Maimonides is not necessarily accepted by all authorities to force divorces on men, however.
Other authorities both early and contemporary class Maimonides’ ruling in this matter as a lone opinion, but this does not stop aguna activists and Modern Orthodox feminists from quoting it frequently to justify beating husbands who refuse to grant a get on the grounds that he really wanted to give it to her all along, but temporarily lost touch with himself.
Men’s rights activists say the Rambam’s ruling is taken out of context, and that beating the husband until he agrees to grant divorce is for situations where either the man was legally precluded from marrying this woman in the first place, or perhaps if the husband became repulsive to his wife: physically abusive, has an offensive odor, among a limited number of other reasons.
According to them, today’s “no-fault” divorces (which comprise the majority of divorces) would not fit the above situation, nor does it apply to a case where the wife turned to the secular courts without obtaining permission from the Rabbinic court, and certainly not in a case where a wife absconded with the children to another location and is denying the father access to them.