Israeli Supreme Court Bans Rabbinate from Branding Woman Adulteress
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Israeli Supreme Court Bans Rabbinate from Branding Woman Adulteress

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The Supreme Court has issued a ruling forbidding the Israeli Rabbinate from publicly branding a woman an adulteress. The court decreed, in the case of a divorcee who had a lover prior to her divorce, that the Rabbinate could not insert into the religious divorce certificate (get) the halachic injunction that “This woman is forbidden for both husband and lover.”

Justice Yoel Sussman said in the decision that although the halachic ruling forbidding a divorcee to marry her lover was valid within the framework of religious law, there was no reason for it to be recorded in the divorce certificate which is a civil instrument required by civil law. The Justice stressed that the function of a rabbi who performs in marriages or divorce cases is not a judiciary one but rather one of a registering authority. Such an authority cannot be permitted to add a limiting clause to a divorce certificate, Justice Sussman said, because the registration is not for the use of the rabbinical authorities but is a statistical document describing the personal status of the person involved.

In rendering the court’s decision, Justice Suesman wrote: “It is true that according to halacha an adulterous woman is forbidden to her lover, But one should not brand her as unfit for marriage so that the adultery is known in public. The appellant might need the certificate (of divorce) for other purposes such as income tax, social security or even to apply for work. If she is forbidden to be married, it is a limitation of the individual’s rights to force her to show this limitation in public.”


The case involved a Beersheba woman who married six years ago, gave birth to a daughter but divorced her husband two years later in the Beersheba rabbinical court. The woman appealed to that court to expedite the issuance of the divorce certificate on grounds that she was separated from her husband and had become pregnant by another man whom she wanted to marry before their child was born. The rabbinical court rejected her request and delayed issuing the certificate until last year. It included the clause forbidding her to have relations with the father of her child. In ruling in favor of the woman’s appeal, the Supreme Court noted that the law requires the divorce certificate to be issued at the time of the divorce, which the rabbinical court had refused to do.

Israel’s two chief rabbis indicated that they would defy the Supreme Court’s ruling. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said the religious courts would continue to judge purely according to halacha and would not accept any instructions that contravened halachic rules. He claimed that religious courts were bound only by Jewish law. Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren issued a similar statement.

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