So far, courts had to turn to particularly complicated channels, going through the attorney general or higher jurisdictions, in order to jail a divorce refuser for more than 10 years – the period of time permitted by the law.
Now the Supreme Court has ruled that rabbinical courts have the authority to combine the enforcement of several laws and leave the recalcitrant husband in prison for an unlimited period of time.
Husband tries to leave jail after 10 years
The decision was made as part of an affair involving a woman who was abandoned by her husband about 12 years ago: A couple with four children immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. The woman converted to Judaism and joined the Chabad Hasidic movement, and in 1995 the couple began divorce proceedings on the backdrop of physical violence against the woman.
In 2000, the district rabbinical court decided that the man must grant his wife a divorce immediately. The husband refused, and was jailed for different periods of time, one of them for 10 years, according to the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law (Upholding Divorce Rulings), which permits the imprisonment of a divorce recalcitrant for up to a decade.
When the 10 years of his confinement were about to end, the woman requested the court to jail him for a longer period of time, by the power of a law authorizing the court to charge him with contempt of court.
The district rabbinical court accepted the request in June 2011, ruling that upon the end of his imprisonment, the husband would be jailed for an unlimited period of time until he agreed to grant his wife a divorce.
In accordance with the law, the court's decision was submitted for the approval of then-Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish, who confirmed the district court's ruling. A petition filed by the husband with the Great Rabbinical Court was dismissed.
Goal: Adding sanctions against refusers
Last year, the husband petitioned the Supreme Court, claiming that the rabbinical court was unauthorized to order his arrest by charging him with contempt of court, as the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law (Upholding Divorce Rulings) was the only tool that could be used by the courts when dealing with divorce issues.
The husband added that the court could only jail him for up to 10 years, as permitted by the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law (Upholding Divorce Rulings).
The woman, on the other hand, argued through Attorneys Sara Marcovich and Dr. Aviad Hacohen that the law upholding divorce rulings did not aim to replace other laws, and that its goal was to provide the court with additional authorities for enforcing the law against divorce recalcitrants rather than lessening their authorities.
The petition was discussed by a panel of three judges: Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, Esther Hayut and Zvi Zylbertal. The panel handed down its ruling last week, determining that the law upholding divorce rulings did not annul previous laws, and that its goal was to add sanctions rather than cancel existing sanctions by the power of these laws.
Judge Zylbertal clarified that the idea at the heart of the law was to provide the court with additional tools in order to force divorce recalcitrants to obey the law, noting that alongside the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law (Upholding Divorce Rulings), rabbinical courts may use other enforcement tools.
The judges rejected additional claims presented by the recalcitrant husband and approved his arrest.
National religious women's organization Emunah joined the petition to the Supreme Court together with the WIZO and Na'amat organization. Emunah Chairwoman Lior Minka welcomed the decision, saying that the "this man jailed himself, and he is the one who can released himself, if he wants and at any given moment. In the meantime, he is making his wife and his family miserable."
Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Eli Ben-Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi), formerly the director of the rabbinical courts, welcomed the court ruling as well, adding that "this is a first legislative step which will help release 'agunot' (abandoned wives), and it should join additional laws aimed at aggravating divorce recalcitrants' punishments and extraditing divorce recalcitrants who have fled the country."