Yocheved (a fictitious name) and her children suffered for years from sexual, emotional and physical abuse perpetrated by the husband/father.
It’s enough to cite only part of the horrifying description in the judgment rendered by the Family Court: "The defendant hit his children, locked them in the bathroom for hours, sat on them and didn’t let them move… brought other women home when the children were there and even slept with them in a room in the house… behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with his daughters… offered them money to dance in front of him… caressed his daughter’s chest… the minors avoid physical contact with the defendant… from all of the stated it is clear that under the described circumstances an ongoing connection with the defendant is not good for the children.”
Throughout the years of their marriage the husband limited Yocheved’s contact with friends and family and she became isolated without any social support in Israel. After Yocheved managed to obtain a divorce from her husband, she petitioned the court to allow her to move to the States with the children in order to allow her to build a new life for herself.
The Family Court ruled, in accordance with the jurisdiction that it properly asserted over the case, that it was clearly in the children’s best interest to move to the States with their mother.
So what happened? In spite of the unequivocal decision written by the Family Court, the father applied to the rabbinic court in Jerusalem to determine his visitation rights with the children. The rabbinic court was apparently of the opinion that the fact that the Family Court had already adjudicated the issue and written a decision on the matter was a negligible detail. The husband, after all, has the right to have his petition heard.
By ignoring the rules of procedure and the jurisdiction, the rabbinic court makes a clear and crass statement: its jurisdiction will be forced on anyone who is sued in the rabbinic court, even if the civil court has already ruled in the matter. An appeal to the High Rabbinic Court was not effective.
Through her attorneys, Esther Shaanan and Yaakov Katzin, Yocheved filed a petition with the High Court of Justice. They appeared at the hearing two days before Yom Kippur, and, immediately after the Succoth holiday, they received judgment from the High Court that the rabbinic court did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate regarding the children, and that the orders for a stay of exiting the country from 2006 were cancelled. Great. Now, one would assume, Yocheved could board a plane with the children and finally start her new life? No!
It transpires that, by law, only the judicial entity that issued a stay of exiting the country can cancel it. There is no way, technically, to get around the computerized system. Ms. Shaanan spoke with all kinds of officials, and everyone tried to help, but the only way to cancel the order preventing Yocheved and the children from exiting the country that had been entered into the state's computerized travel system was to receive instructions from the body that imposed the stay in the first instance, i.e., the rabbinic court.
But the rabbinic court refused to cancel the stay - playing innocent and asserting that the High Court of Justice ruled that the stays were cancelled but had not ruled that the rabbinic court had to act in order that the Border Police remove the stays from the computerized system.
Ms. Shaanan calls on the rabbinic court judges: You are part of the legal system in the State of Israel. You are appointed, like every judge in the State of Israel to serve the citizens of Israel and to ensure enforcement of the law. You are a governing body and you are required to honor the values of the State, including the value of the rule of law.
If you are the only body that can cancel the restraining order issued by your courts and filed with the Border Police, you must do so without playing games. You rabbinic judges – instead of taking part in the great mitzva of saving Jewish souls - have chosen to wage a battle of prestige on the backs of innocent children. We can no longer close our eyes to this. This time, honorable rabbinic judges, you’ve gone too far.
The end of the story? There are good people in the Border Police who, after hearing this terrible saga and studying the decision of the High Court of Justice, decided to make an exception to the rule and they allowed the children to leave the country despite the fact that stays remain (to this day) in effect with respect to them.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic court pleader who works at The Center for Women’s Justice
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