In rare move, rabbinical court annuls marriage of woman refused divorce

Two years after Oded Guez fled rather than grant wife bill of divorce, Haifa court uses secret legal procedure to nullify the marriage retroactively

Oded Guez (handout via JTA)
Oded Guez (handout via JTA)

In an extremely rare move, an official rabbinic court annulled the marriage of a Jewish Israeli woman whose husband has refused to grant her a religious bill of divorce for the past five years, the court announced Monday.

Two years ago, Oded Guez fled the country using a forged passport to escape the sanctions and public shaming the rabbinic court had ordered against him for refusing to grant his wife a get, or religious divorce.

On Monday, a Haifa rabbinical court said it had found a legal way to allow Guez’s wife, who has not been named, to remarry, even without receiving a bill of divorce.

“After intensive discussions, during which the court heard testimony and professional opinions and evaluations, and after great effort by the court, it was decided today to nullify the marriage and to allow Mrs. Guez to end her status as a ‘chained woman,'” the court said in a statement. “This means that Mrs. Guez’s status is like that of a single woman who has never married.”

The court said that the details of the legal mechanism by which it nullified the marriage was confidential.

“I am pleased that one of the most difficult ‘chained wife’ case that the court has dealt with has come to an end,” said Rabbi David Malka, director of the government appointed Rabbinical Courts. “This demonstrates once again that the court takes all the measures at its disposal — both operational and within Jewish law, and leaves no stone unturned in its huge efforts to bring relief to all chained women in the State of Israel.”

Guez is currently awaiting extradition to Israel from Belgium, where he was captured after a manhunt across several European countries, after the rabbinic court found he had committed a criminal offense.

In 2016, Guez was fired from his position at Bar Ilan University, after the Jerusalem rabbinical court excommunicated him and ordered the publication of his name, photo, and personal details.

The move came a week after the Rabbinical High Court of Appeals issued a herem — a writ of excommunication — against Guez.

The rabbinical court’s herem said Guez was not to be honored, hosted, allowed to attend synagogue, or even spoken to, “until he relents from his stubbornness and listens to his betters, and unchains his wife, and gives her a get [religious divorce].”

In Judaism, women who are not given a get, or Jewish divorce, by their husbands are known as agunot or “chained women,” as they cannot remarry according to Orthodox Jewish law. Any children they have out of wedlock may not marry under Orthodox law.

In Israel, rabbinical tribunals function as family courts for Jewish citizens, and are part of a general judiciary that also includes Islamic Sharia courts. These religious tribunals have the authority to grant child custody and impose heavy fines and even jail sentences.

The annulment comes two weeks after a private rabbinical court, headed by Rabbi Daniel Sperber and convened by the Center for Women’s Justice,  annulled a marriage in which the husband refused to grant his wife a bill of divorce for 23 years, in what is believed to be the most extreme case of a chained woman in the State of Israel.

The center said its precedent paved the way for the state rabbinic court to make a similar ruling.

A source who was involved in the rabbinic court system told the Center for Women’s Justice that he had no doubt that there was a connection between Tzviya Gorodetsky’s annulment and the timing of the Guez ruling.

The group also criticized the court for not publicizing the legal mechanism by which it freed Guez’s wife. “We think that the rabbinic court should be more transparent and publicize an important ruling like this,” the group said in a statement.

While welcoming Monday’s ruling, the group also blamed the court for issuing sanctions against Guez that led him to flee the country and caused harm to both him and his wife. “We hold the rabbinic court accountable for creating this problem in the first place by not utilizing the legal Jewish tools at their disposal from the outset, instead turning to shaming tactics which only exacerbated the situation,” the group said.

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) praised the ruling on Twitter. “Everyone, whether man or woman, deserves the right to freedom and it is incumbent on the state institutions guarantee that,” she wrote.

MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) tweeted that, “When the court wants to act it can do so.”

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