According to the Property Relations Law (1973) currently in effect in Israel, property division rulings can only take place once a divorce has officially been granted, unless otherwise decreed by the Family Court.
This law has thus given ‘divorce- refusing’ husbands the opportunity to extort their wives financially, forcing them to cave in on property matters in return for an official divorce (which, by Jewish law, necessitates the husband’s consent).
The new bill, proposed by Knesset Members Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) and Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party), conversely, can do much to aid women on their way to the Rabbinical court.
The current Property Relations Law does not intentionally discriminate against women, however “it is unfortunately the men in our society that not only have the power to grant or refuse a divorce according to Jewish law, but also hold the upper hand financially as well,” said MK Melchior.
Bill 'amends grievous wrong'
Melchior’s proposed bill now comes before the Knesset for a seconds and third reading, amidst fears on the part of its originators as well as various women’s rights group that haredi parties will prevent its passage.
“I sincerely hope that political considerations won’t torpedo this bill… it somewhat corrects the balance of power between husbands and wives and amends a grievous wrong,” said Attorney Batya Khana-Dror of the ‘Dead End’ Women’s Group, part of the IKAR coalition of Womens’ Rights Groups
MK Melchior, too, braces for haredi objections to the bill, but does not see it as problematic in terms of Jewish law. “Many torah greats in various generations concluded that the status quo is unjust towards women, and were willing to amend the situation so that women would find it easier to obtain a divorce, “ he said.
“This has nothing to do with halacha,” MK Melchior further noted. We must keep these poor women from being chained to their husbands, form being ‘agunot’( women bound in marriage). Especially for Orthodox women this is akin to living in a prison," he said.