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U.S. warns those Israel- bound: Grant a `get’ or face detention

NEW YORK, Jan. 22 (JTA) — The U.S. State Department has issued a formal warning to American citizens that if they travel to Israel and are involved in a contentious divorce, the Israeli government may not permit them to leave the Jewish state without granting their spouse a religious divorce. The unprecedented warning from the U.S. government was issued Wednesday in a consular information sheet, in which the State Department details a range of matters of local concerns. It is rooted in the stories of two American Orthodox Jewish men who have withheld a religious divorce, called a get, from their wives and then gone to visit Israel. Neither is an Israeli citizen. A secular divorce is not sufficient for Jews who live according to Jewish law, or halachah, which requires men to write a bill of divorce for their wives. In some instances, men have refused to issue the required get in order to extract concessions or to punish their wives. As a result, both are unable to remarry. In the first case, Seymour Klagsbrun left his wife a dozen years ago, has withheld the get and subsequently obtained what he has claimed is rabbinic permission to remarry without freeing his first wife. A small but apparently growing number of men have sought a way around not being able to remarry by claiming permission to date and in some cases remarry without divorcing their first wives. The three rabbis who ostensibly signed the writ of permission to remarry have all since died, according to Elu Klagsbrun, who is Seymour Klagsbrun’s son. Some in the Orthodox community have alleged that the document is a forgery. In May, Klagsbrun remarried. It is not clear who officiated at the ceremony, but the rabbis of his community, in Monsey, N.Y., prohibited him from worshiping at any area synagogue. Klagsbrun, an attorney traveled to Israel in the autumn of 1996, hoping to find a more welcoming atmosphere, Elu Klagsbrun said in an interview. When Israel’s rabbinical courts learned of Klagsbrun’s case, they instructed the government to prohibit him from leaving the country and he was reportedly jailed overnight. In Israel, the Orthodox-controlled rabbinical establishment is empowered to use the civil government to pressure men who are withholding Jewish divorces from their wives into giving them. Klagsbrun apparently appealed to the American government to allow him to leave the country. The U.S. government has, as a result, issued the warning. “We are not necessarily taking the side of those involved who are inconvenienced,” a State Department official told reporters Wednesday. “We just need to make American citizens aware of the fact that they could be subject to involuntary and prolonged stays in Israel.” The other case involves Uzi Frankel, who has for several years been withholding a get from his wife, Moti Frankel. Moti Frankel said her husband has been in Israel for some time, has claimed to have rabbinic permission to date without giving her a divorce and has refused to pay any child support. After she went to the Israeli courts for help, Israeli authorities prohibited Uzi Frankel from leaving the Jewish state until he gives his wife the divorce she needs to be able to get on with her life. (JTA correspondent Matthew Dorf in Washington contributed to this report.)