A bill to extend the maximum prison sentence for recalcitrant husbands who refuse their wives a religious bill of divorce, or get, was approved by the Knesset plenum in its preliminary reading on Tuesday.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Meretz MK Michal Rozin, would amend the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts, which are presently allowed to level financial sanctions, confiscate passports, and appeal for the arrest of non-cooperative spouses for up to 10 years.

Under the new law, rabbinic authorities would be able to call for the imprisonment of recalcitrant husbands for a maximum of 20 years.

A Knesset committee will determine when the bill will be brought to a first reading at a future date.

The harsher penalty aims to curb the number of get refusal cases and assist the countless women trapped in marriages, the bill maintains.

“Today there are a number of objectors serving a sentence in prison for years for refusing a get and all due to stubborn refusal and vengeance,” the bill’s explanatory text read.

“This amendment is intended to help the rabbinical courts to implement the law, to reduce the cases of divorce refusal and help the agunot, bound in the shackles of their marriages, to be freed.”

Rozin stressed that the bill was drafted in the interest of protecting women, and “will help women who are imprisoned by their husbands.”

Under Jewish law, a woman who is refused a get by her husband is considered an aguna, a chained woman, and is forbidden to remarry.

Last April, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court ordered to keep a recalcitrant husband imprisoned indefinitely, overthrowing the law that husbands could be held for up to 10 years. The case in question had been ongoing for 12 years, of which the defendant had spent in 10 years in prison.

In a memorandum issued February 5 for the review of Knesset legislators, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni suggested that a prenuptial agreement — either an official version provided by the Justice Ministry, or a different version drawn up individually — be presented to every couple that arrives at the marriage registrar’s office.

“The prenuptial agreement was instituted by great rabbis and Torah scholars throughout the world,” Livni’s memorandum read.

The proposed legislation would provide the spouse opposed to the divorce a period of six months in order to negotiate with his or her partner.

Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.