Chief rabbi halts woman’s burial until son grants wife a divorce

Chief rabbi halts woman’s burial until son grants wife a divorce

After extreme sanction is announced, US-based man agrees to formally end religious marriage after over a decade

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews visit graves at the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, September 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews visit graves at the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, September 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau on Tuesday ordered the Jerusalem burial of a woman put on hold until her son agreed to grant his estranged wife a religious divorce.

Hours later, the man in question expressed his willingness to grant the get, and the funeral of his mother was set to proceed, reports said.

The woman, whose body was flown to Israel from the US, was due to be buried in the Mount of Olives cemetery Tuesday morning but Lau instructed the burial society to stop the proceedings until her US-based son delivers the divorce papers, known as a get, to a rabbinic court.

Lau said the measure was taken in an effort to pressure the husband, an ultra-Orthodox man, into freeing his ex-wife from the bonds of Jewish marriage after refusing to grant the get for over 10 years.

“When all the other options were exhausted, we had to inform the burial society not to bury the mother until the son provides a kosher divorce,” he wrote in explaining his decision. “We hope this move will soon bring about a divorce and the woman will be released.”

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Under Jewish law, women may not remarry unless they are granted a religious divorce from their husband.

Lau was acting in accordance with a ruling by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, an ultra-Orthodox body also known as Agudas Harabonim, which applied punitive measures against the husband several years ago to pressure him to divorce his wife.

Among the restrictions the US rabbis laid down were denying burial rights to the man’s family, the B’Hadrei Haredim website reported. The UOR said the deceased woman had supported her son in withholding the divorce.

The UOR had contacted Lau and urged him to uphold its ruling and not allow the mother to be buried.

According to the report, the man separated from his wife over a decade ago and, while denying her a divorce, was able to remarry by relying on a rare method of approval granted by another rabbinic forum, one that is not recognized by the UOR.

Lau wrote it was “an extremely severe” case, in which the husband had kept his wife from being able to continue her life “while illegally marrying a second wife.”

The Center for Women’s Justice, an organization which helps women denied a get by recalcitrant husbands, known as agunot, sharply criticized the situation.

“Is there no other way to end a Jewish marriage other than a long wait for His Excellency the Husband’s consent? Is there no way to solve the tragedy of so many women besides hurting the honor of the late mother of the husband?” the group asked.

Rabbinical courts have attempted to deal with the scourge by putting pressure on the husbands through any legal means available, including fines and excommunication from the community. In Israel, where rabbinical courts are recognized by the state, some have even been jailed in recent years.

In April, an Israeli man finally gave his wife a divorce after he was fired from his job and jailed for refusing to do so.

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