A forum of national religious community leaders embarked on a campaign Thursday to shift public opinion in favor of reforms in the Rabbinical court system to address the problem of women refused a Jewish divorce.
As part of the campaign, Beit Hillel, which was founded in 2012 to counter religious extremism and bridge the secular-religious divide, is expected to publish and distribute proposals on how to reduce the number of agunot, or women refused a Jewish divorce, in the country.
Yardena Cope-Yossef, the campaign manager on behalf of Beit Hillel, said that public discussion on the issue of agunot was imperative in order to achieve real change, and called on community leaders to work together in order to come up with a viable solution for the problem.
“This is not just a problem for women, but a problem for all of us, also men — and from all sectors. We must join hands to solve the problem of agunot,” she said in a statement.
According to Jewish law, a woman who is refused a get, or Jewish bill of divorce, by her husband is forbidden to remarry.
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.
Last month, the Knesset approved in preliminary reading a bill to extend the maximum prison sentence for recalcitrant husbands who refuse their wives a religious bill of divorce.
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.
The harsher penalty aims to curb the number of get refusal cases and assist the countless women trapped in marriages, the bill maintains.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report