David* was sent to jail last year for eight months for violating a restraining order against his wife and threatening to kill her.
Lital* wants a divorce, which David (not their real names) refuses to grant, withholding the get, or Jewish writ of divorce, necessary to end a marriage under both Jewish and Israeli law. This leaves Lital trapped in the marriage, known in Hebrew as an “aguna,” or one who is chained.
And yet the rabbinical court dealing with their case suggested at a recent hearing that the two consider reconciling, rather than divorcing.
“I told them that it was not relevant, that I gave it a chance for 20 years and it hasn’t worked until now,” Lital told The Times of Israel in a phone interview on Sunday. “There is no way I would stay in this destructive relationship.”
Last year, Lital sought and received a restraining order from police over fears that David would harm her or their six children. According to a court ruling, just one day later he arrived at their home and began yelling and screaming and threatening to harm them and others.
“I’m going to leave here and kill people — what don’t you understand?!” David is quoted as saying in the court ruling. “I will kill people, I will kill children, I will kill everyone — are you an idiot?!… it doesn’t matter [if it will take me] a month or two months or a year or two years, I will kill all of you.”
A month later, David returned to their home and refused to leave despite Lital’s plea. After she called the police, he said “you will die today, you will die,” according to the court filing. He was sentenced to eight months in prison, and was released several weeks ago.
Nitzan Caspi Shiloni, an attorney with the Center for Women’s Justice, which is representing Lital, said the rabbinic court refused to hold a hearing on their divorce while he was in prison.
Instead, in December, the Haifa Rabbinical Court issued a ruling citing David’s promise to seek treatment for his alcoholism as well as to consult with a rabbi to “look into the possibility of restoring the marriage.”
In light of both sides’ claims, the court wrote, they were giving David 30 days from his release from prison to reach out to a rabbinic figure to explore the possibility of “shalom bayit,” literally “peace in the home,” i.e. reconciliation.
“I’ve been in this field for many years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before,” said Caspi Shiloni. “It’s so extreme that they would even give him an option to say that he wants to reconcile, when you’re talking about a violent man who sat in prison for threats against her.”
Lital said she begged the court to keep him behind bars until he agreed to give her a get, or to bring him for a hearing immediately after his release, but they refused.
“He doesn’t have a bank account, he doesn’t have a credit card, he’s not someone who cares about sanctions — he could disappear,” she said. “I don’t think [the rabbinic court judges] even read his file.”
She said that there is another hearing scheduled in the Haifa Rabbinical Court for next week, but David “told me he has no intention of showing up,” leaving her with little recourse.
The rabbinical courts are “a system that I no longer have any faith in, it’s a completely male system which prefers to leave women without rights, without the ability to move on, and [my freedom is] dependent on one man,” she said. “I really feel like I’m in prison and he’s the only one with the key.”
Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, head of the aguna branch of the rabbinical courts system, said he was not familiar with the case. A spokesman for the rabbinic court system said that it would not comment on ongoing legal processes.
Lital said she wants to tell her story in the press so more people understand the injustice she is suffering.
“If I was younger, if I was in my 20s and childless, I would go to battle over this system, over rights for women — how could this system put us in captivity?” she said. “We’re in a country with equal rights for everyone, but suddenly with this we don’t have rights.”
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