Colpa Hails Supreme Court’s Refusal to Review Lower Court Ruling on Religious Divorce

The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to review a New York State Court of Appeals ruling against an Orthodox Jewish man who refused to give his wife a religious divorce in violation of their prenuptial agreement, was hailed today by the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the woman’s complaint.

Dennis Rapps, executive director of COLPA, contended that while it is difficult to know why the Supreme Court turns down a case for review, since no opinion is issued, the effect in this case is to let stand the Court of Appeals ruling which affirmed that agreements to go to a Beth Din (religious court) is entitled to the same degree of enforceability as any other agreement to go to arbitration even to resolve religious issues.

The New York Court of Appeals issued its ruling last February in the case of Susan Avitzur who complained that her former husband, Boaz, whom she divorced in 1978 by civil decree, refused to honor their prenuptial agreement (ketubah) which required the couple to appear before a rabbinical court to settle marital disputes involving Jewish marriage standards. Boaz Avitzur would not appear before the Beth Din or grant his wife a religious divorce (get) without which an Orthodox Jew cannot remarry. He argued that enforcement of the agreement violated the principle of separation of church and state. When New York’s highest court ruled against him, Avitzur appealed to the Supreme Court.

SAYS NEXT STEP IS UNCLEAR

According to Rapps, it is unclear what the next step in the case will be. “While it is clear that the husband can be required to go to a Beth Din, there is considerable dispute as to the jurisdiction the agreement confers on the Beth Din,” he noted.

Rapps said that the agreement “does not refer directly to a Jewish religious divorce but rather to the authority of the Beth Din to ‘counsel’ the couple in matters concerning their marriage. Thus there may be further litigation as what the Beth Din can decide before the parties ever get to the Beth Din.”

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