Rabbinical and legal experts met Sunday to formulate a legal loophole that will enable women to file for divorce in a Jewish court of law — an attempt to mitigate a practice whereby only a man can issue a get or Jewish divorce.
According to Jewish law, if a husband refuses to issue his wife a get despite her appeal, she remains chained to the marriage — a status known as aguna in Hebrew — and is unable to remarry in a rabbinical court, even if the couple is de facto separated.
Sunday’s marriage registration reform, spearheaded by Tzohar, an organization of Orthodox rabbis that seeks to streamline and improve rabbinic services, walks a fine line between demands to implement civil marriage practices — currently unavailable in Israel — and adherence to the stringency of Jewish law.
The new prenuptial agreement, devised together with Israel’s bar association, meets rabbinical requirements and the demands of the Israeli court system in a bid to end the aguna phenomenon.
“No one deserves to stay chained in a terrible marriage with a knife at their throat,” said Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar.
“This agreement can and should become the norm in Israeli society to ensure that the end of a marriage and separating from your partner will be treated with respect and dignity,” he said.
Because in Israel, life cycle events such as births, deaths and marriages are controlled by religious courts that operate with the authority of the state, the decision has legal ramifications as well as civil ones.
Whether religious or not, women who do not divorce through Jewish law courts remain legally bound to their marriage under Israeli civil law.
“If this agreement was available to me a few years ago, my life story would likely have been very different,” said Dorit Stern, who was refused a religious divorce for six years.
“A person who is in this situation is stuck – can’t move on, can’t get married, can’t have children. The solution to this problem exists and I’m so glad that someone finally is standing up and working to do something about it,” she said.