On Agunah Day, commemorated on the Fast of Esther, we took note of the plight of Agunot and the efforts made on their behalf to find halakhic solutions, I decided to take a closer look at the data and numbers published by the Rabbinic Courts Administration summarizing their achievements of 2009.
The Rabbinic Courts Administration boasted about the successes of its Special Task Force claiming that that it successfully helped free 162 women whose husbands disappeared in Israel and abroad, or who refused to divorce their wives (agunot). But this figure is quite remarkable given the fact that in June 2007 the Court published what it called a path-breaking and one-time scientific survey that showed that there were only 180 agunot. This data is even more astonishing when you take into consideration that the court published data in 2008 claiming that the Special Unit managed to obtain divorces for 130 women whose husbands disappeared in the country or abroad, or who refused to divorce their wives.
Well, if there were only 180 women who had been refused a divorce in 2007, it is certainly reassuring to know that the Special Task Force managed to obtain a divorce for 130 of them in 2008. And that they were able to free another 162 women in 2009. Reassuring? I’m not so sure. Could the court be mocking us a wee bit? In their scientific survey, the court defines agunot as women who been refused a divorce for two years or more. After many decades they managed to count 180 agunot, and within just two years another 110 sprouted up? Could it be that the definition of agunot (women denied a divorce) is one thing when the rabbinic court counts them in response to activists’ complaints; and another when it counts its successes?
The Rabbinic Court probably counts “L” as one its success of 2009. Hear ye oh readers, and judge for yourselves. “L” lived for many years in a violent and hard marriage. Among other things, her husband cut and gnashed her throat several times, threatened her life, and put her under constant fear of his beatings. In 1999 she began divorce proceedings in the rabbinical court. In 2002 the parties signed a divorce agreement that was authorized in the family court. It included all matters associated with divorce. But not the divorce itself. In 2007 she turned to the Center for Women’s Justice and explained: "My husband said he would never give me a get. I was so afraid of him, that I just wanted him to leave me be. That's why I signed the divorce agreement without getting a get.”
We examined the woman’s file. It turned out that the rabbinic court had heard the claims and testimony of the parties, accepted evidence in the case, and received the wife’s written summation of trial. Of course the husband was uncooperative. So in 2004, the court ruled that if he did not submit a written summation within a defined time period, the court would decide the case without him. But at this critical stage, the court apparently "fell asleep" or "forgot". In 2007, after L asked me to represent her, I demanded that the court issue the decision that they promised in 2004. I got nada, gorenisht. Meanwhile, one of the judges retired, and the composition of the tribunal changed.
So what now? The new tribunal claimed it needed to see the husband (and start all over, from the beginning ...). The husband of course - did not come (why should he come?). All my begging, screaming, and complaints that allegations were heard, evidence submitted, and written summaries filed did not help. The court stood its ground.
From its perspective – it was impossible for the new judges to rule on the case without seeing the husband and hearing his case from the beginning. Hallelujah.
From the court’s perspective: All’s well that ends well. In 2009 the rabbinic court detectives caught the husband, brought him to court, and he agreed to divorce. A success story, no? Not in my mind. A divorce given 10 years after the woman first filed for divorce, seven years after the parties signed a divorce agreement, and five years after written summaries were filed with the rabbinic court can not be considered a success. With all this, the court managed to make itself hated in the eyes of the woman, her children,
and all her acquaintances. The court refused to take any action, showing no empathy for the pain of a woman who lived unhappily, miserably and possibly in sin.
Moreover, I doubt if L was ever counted as an agunah in the "scientific" survey conducted in 2007. How could she counted? After all, in 2007, her case was closed!
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic pleader who works at the Center for Women's Justice, Tel: 02-5664390