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After six years on the run, Israeli man arrested over divorce refusal

Ronen Vital found sitting in his car in south Tel Aviv; is still refusing to give a religious bill of divorce after 13 years, but advocates are optimistic

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Ronen Vital (Courtesy/Israel rabbinical courts)
Ronen Vital (Courtesy/Israel rabbinical courts)

An Israeli man who disappeared nearly seven years ago after refusing to give his wife a religious bill of divorce, known as a get, was found sitting in his car in south Tel Aviv and has been arrested, advocates representing the woman said Wednesday.

Ronen Vital’s whereabouts have been unknown since he stepped out of a rabbinical courtroom in 2015 and vanished. He has declined to divorce his wife, Orly, for 13 years, leaving her in legal limbo.

Six weeks ago, the Yad La’isha legal aid organization received a tip on Vital, according to its director, Pnina Omer. Private investigators pursued the lead over the past month and a half on the organization’s behalf, resulting in his arrest last week, Omer told The Times of Israel.

Vital was spotted in his car, wearing a cap to avoid recognition, she said.

Yad L’Isha alerted the police, who quickly arrived at the scene and detained him.

“At first he didn’t want to identify himself, but then he… admitted it was him,” she said.

A man identified as Ronen Vital being arrested in Tel Aviv on September 1, 2021. (Courtesy S. Caspi firm)

Vital has continued to refuse to divorce his wife since his arrest last week, Omer said. Brought to the rabbinical court, he made “all sorts of absurd financial demands,” she said.

Despite his continued recalcitrance, Omer said she’s confident he’ll ultimately give in.

“We aren’t breaking. Orly has patience, she’ll wait for the get, he’ll give the get and until he does he’ll remain under arrest. We’re waiting for that moment,” she said.

In a statement, Orly Vital said she was stunned to discover her estranged husband was living “under our noses” for years.

“It’s incredible to think that he’s literally been living under our noses for all these years, less than an hour from our home. I only hope that he’ll come to his senses and bring this painful chapter to an end, for the good of everyone including himself,” she said.

In Israel, where marriage and divorce are exclusively overseen by the state religious authority, the Chief Rabbinate, divorces are conducted in accordance with Jewish law, which means a man must give a get, or writ of divorce, and the woman must accept it. Should he refuse, dodge the authorities, or be incapacitated, the woman remains locked in the marriage in the eyes of the religious authorities, and by extension, the state.

In many cases, the get is withheld by a recalcitrant and conditioned on large sums of money, the relinquishing of alimony rights, property, and so on, in what advocates say is tantamount to extortion and a form of abuse.

The rabbinical courts in Israel have the jurisdiction to apply far-reaching sanctions against husbands deemed recalcitrant, including banning them from leaving the country, ordering their employment terminated, or arresting them, though these measures are only rarely taken.

Vital was officially declared a recalcitrant husband after fleeing the rabbinical courtroom, six years into the divorce proceedings, according to Orly Vital.

Orly Vital (Irit Amit/Courtesy)

Speaking to The Times of Israel last year, Vital indicated she believed he may have fled abroad.

“They don’t know where he is. He ran away, disconnected his phone. His family early on signaled he was abroad but there was an order barring him from leaving the country so if he left, he left illegally, on a falsified passport and there’s no way to check it,” she said at the time.

According to Vital, a 42-year-old mother of four, the marriage soured after several years and was plagued by a bitter financial dispute between their respective families. When she filed for divorce, she realized early on he would not easily give in.

“Quietly, quietly, he would whisper in my ear, ‘You’ll never get a get, until you give my mother money,’” she said. “He would whisper in my ear because he was afraid I would record him, because he always recorded me.”

Vital stressed in comments to a gathering of women last year that she has moved on with her life, to the best of her ability.

“A sort of revenge that I took against him is that I carried on with my life, that I moved on, that I continued working, that I’m happy. He hasn’t been able to take away my happiness, although he hasn’t allowed me to continue with my life, to get married, to have a relationship, and to have children,” she said. “This is my personal revenge.”

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