Israeli Rabbinical Court Could Pursue Criminal Charges Against Divorce Refusers

A Jewish man who refuses to divorce his wife in defiance of a rabbinical court order to do so will be liable to face criminal charges in the future, according to a policy change announced on Monday by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

Under religious (halachik) law, rabbinical courts may order a man to give his wife a divorce (a get, in Hebrew) but cannot itself issue the divorce without the man’s compliance.

Women who are refused divorce are known as “chained women” (agunot, in Hebrew) and unable to remarry, according to Jewish law.

“An individual who refuses to give a get is harming the basic freedoms and rights of his [wife], including the right to remarry, the right to have children without their being considered bastards and ineligible to marry, the right to maintain intimate relations, etc.” Nitzan wrote in his directive.

In many cases, there are also indirect social and economic consequences to get-refusal, Nitzan noted.

Under the new directive, in cases in which a husband is convicted of violating an order to grant a get, the prosecution will ask that he be sentence to a significant prison term.

If, following the conviction, the defendant relents and grants the get, it will be considered grounds for lenience.

Nevertheless, the prosecution will insist that the conviction should stand and that a significant punishment should be imposed.

The directive also addresses the prospect that a get issued after criminal proceedings are instituted could be regarded as not having been granted by the husband’s free will and thus invalid. Criminal charges will only be laid following an order by the rabbinical court and after consultation with the legal adviser to the rabbinical courts, Nitzan said.

The new directive was the result of staff work carried out over the past several months by Deputy State Prosecutor Eli Abarbanel, who has recently been appointed a Jerusalem district court judge, and a team of experts.

Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Academic Center of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, described the new policy as “a real revolution in the fight against those refusing to grant a get.” Such refusal was “a stain on society” that does harm to “fundamental values of human dignity and freedom,” he said.

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