JERUSALEM (Aug. 24)
A new bill likely to pass the Knesset would strengthen sanctions the rabbinical courts could levy against husbands who refuse to grant divorces to their wives.
The bill reflects an effort to improve the plight of thousands of Israeli women, called agunot, whose husbands will not give them a get, or Jewish divorce, and who, therefore, are forbidden by Jewish law to remarry. Civil marriage is not performed in Israel.
Given that it was prepared by the Justice and Religious Affairs ministries, with the approval of the rabbinical courts, the legislation will likely have the support of the religious parties in the Knesset and thus a good chance of passing.
Women’s groups say they welcome the legislation as a first step in addressing the problem.
They add, however, that they would prefer to see the authority over the recalcitrant husbands be in the hands of the civil, rather than religious, courts.
“The religious courts don’t use the authority they already have, and we’re afraid they won’t use the (increased) authority this law gives them,” said Gittit Nachliel, a lawyer in the rabbinical courts and the coordinator for the International Coalition for Agunah Rights.
But Nachliel acknowledged that shifting the authority to the civil courts is impossible in the current political climate, which essentially gives the religious parties veto power.
Given the political realities, she said, “We’ll give them a chance.”
Current law allows for the rabbinical courts to have a man imprisoned in order to force him to grant a get. But for those not imprisoned, the bill would bar these men from getting a passport, opening a bank account, getting a job in the public sector or working in a field which requires a government license.
The bill was discussed this week in a special meeting of the Knesset law committee. The committee is expected to take it up again with judges from the religious courts before it is put before the full Knesset for a vote.