The husband claimed he was cohen – of the priestly sect – and that his wife had been a divorcee, and therefore he was not allowed to marry her in the first place. Because of this, said the husband, the court should support his claim and order his wife to accept a get.
The court asked the husband how a cohen could have married a divorcee through the London Rabbinate. He answered that, at first, the couple thought that they would have to be married by a Reform rabbi, but somehow his wife managed to arrange for an Orthodox rabbi to marry them.
The wife denied the story, claiming that her husband was not a cohen at all, and that if he was – he had hidden that fact from her.
The husband managed to amass fairly strong evidence that he was in fact a cohen. He submitted the following documents to the court: A marital contract (ketubah) in which it states that his father was a cohen; an authorization from the Chief Rabbinate that his father had previously declared that he was a cohen; a note from his community rabbi stating that his father's family were presumed to have been of the priestly sect for the past 50 years; as well as a document stating that the husband's father had arranged for a circumcision of his son (the husband) but not a "redemption" ceremony (pidyon ha'ben) since he was a cohen.
At this stage of the story, the wife came up with a creative and original argument. She claimed that her mother-in-law, her husband's mother, had sexual relations with a gentile before she married his father.
According to Jewish Law, a woman who has sex with a gentile is thought to be a "whore" (zonah) and is forbidden to marry a cohen (just as divorcee is so forbidden). If a woman who had sex with a gentile married a cohen (despite the prohibition), the priestly status of the children of that union is voided. The laws of the priesthood do not apply to them.
Therefore, argued the wife, even if it were true that the husband was a cohen, his status is essentially void, and he is permitted to marry a divorcee. Since they were allowed to marry, said the woman, the husband has no cause of action for divorce and she cannot be compelled to accept the get.
But the husband denied his wife's claim regarding his mother's relationship with a gentile before she married his father. And to up the ante even further, he brought a witness who testified that it was not his mother who had had a sexual relationship with a gentile (which would have voided his status as a cohen), but it was his maternal grandmother - a matter that would not void his status as a priest but would merely make him the child of a grandmother who had sex with a gentile before she married his grandfather.
Bottom line, the husband proved he was a cohen; the woman failed to prove that this status was invalidated; and the rabbinic court ordered the wife to accept a get against her will.
I am really disturbed by this (true) case which was reported in one of the last editions of Bar-Ilan's "Law and its Decisor."
First, I am troubled by the fact that the court allowed a person who had thumbed his nose at the establishment to exploit the establishment when it suited his needs and he wanted to get rid of his wife. The court is cooperating with the husband's bad faith and even encouraging it. The rabbinic court should figure out how not to cooperate with such odious and offensive men.
The court could have, for example, said this: "You may be cohen, or maybe that status is void, or you might even be a Levite or a common Israelite, but it does not matter right now. After all, if you married a divorced woman, it's as if you signed a formal affidavit stating that you are not a priest, and you can't now come along and say that you are one just because you want a divorce."
Second, I am troubled by the thought that the question whether a husband's mother or his grandmother did or did not have sex with a gentile before her marriage is the determining factor with regard to the question of whether or not a rabbinic court can order a woman to get divorced.
And I am similarly troubled by the fact that a judicial instance of the State of Israel, whose salaried employees are funded by taxpayers money, deal with this question at all. I truly wonder how we can call ourselves an enlightened democracy when our marriage and divorce laws deal with such issues.
And thirdly, I think that this whole discussion was superfluous, and should not have been entered into at all. Had a rabbinic court held in the first instance that separation was grounds for divorce, there would have been no need to make weird and extraordinary arguments.
In a civilized and ordered world, a husband need just tell a court, "I want a divorce because our marriage has broken down and we no longer live together," and the court would require his wife to divorce.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic court pleader who works at The Center for Women’s Justice . Tel. 972-2-5664390
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