New law allows Israeli rabbinical courts to hear religious divorce cases of Diaspora couples

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s Knesset passed a new law that allows the country’s rabbinical courts to handle the divorce cases of non-Israelis in cases where the husband is withholding a get, or Jewish writ of divorce.

Under the law passed Monday by a vote of 42-24, with two abstentions, in its second and readings, state rabbinical courts can impose sanctions against non-Israeli recalcitrant husbands who enter Israel, including jail time and preventing him from leaving the country.

The temporary law will be on the books for the next three years, and the Knesset will monitor its implementation.

The law, which applies only to recalcitrant husbands, allows the rabbinical courts to hear a case in which neither spouse is Israeli if three conditions are met: That there is no rabbinical court where the couple lives that can hear the case; the couple has not appeared in front of a rabbinical court for four months; or if a husband refuses to give the religious divorce after a Diaspora rabbinical court rules that he must do so and attempted to enforce the decision.

The law does not allow the rabbinical court to deal with any other divorce-related issues such as child support payments.

The new law also states that Israeli rabbinical courts are not superior to Diaspora rabbinical courts.

Under Jewish law, a marriage cannot be dissolved unless the man consents to a get. Rabbinical courts cannot force a man to give his wife a get, but they can impose harsh punishments and public shaming on someone the judges determine is unjustly withholding a get and turning the women into what is known as an “agunah,” or a “chained woman.” Agunot are not allowed to remarry under Jewish law, and any children they have with a new husband in a civil marriage are considered illegitimate.

The new law reportedly is an outgrowth of a request by the Conference of European Rabbis to the Israeli rabbinate to find a solution for Jewish divorce cases involving non-Israeli Jewish men.

“This is a huge step,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, in a statement. “It is my fervent prayer that the new law will pave the way to hope for women who seek to live their life free of the shackles of an unwanted and dysfunctional marriage. Get -refusal is a form of domestic violence and the global Jewish community must act to protect its women. Israel is the only country whose Rabbinical courts have the power to pressure recalcitrant husbands and the new law will ensure that all men, regardless of their citizenship, feel the force of disgust from the global Jewish community.”

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