Infamous divorce refuser who fled Israel returns after 4 years, is arrested

Infamous divorce refuser who fled Israel returns after 4 years, is arrested

Case of Oded Guez has set precedents, with state rabbinate publicizing his name to pressure him; after his 2016 escape under false identity, marriage was annulled in rare step

Oded Guez. (Courtesy)
Oded Guez. (Courtesy)

A man infamous for refusing to grant his wife a divorce, who fled Israel to evade legal proceedings against him, returned to the country Tuesday night after almost four years in Belgium and was immediately arrested, Hebrew-language media reported Wednesday.

Oded Guez has been refusing to grant his wife a “get” — a Jewish divorce — since 2012, in a case that was considered one of the most difficult of its kind and that prompted several precedent-setting decisions by the Chief Rabbinate.

The first came in 2016, when a rabbinical court approved publicizing Guez’s name in an attempt to pressure and shame him into granting his wife a divorce, which would allow the religiously observant woman to remarry.

Guez, who had been a professor of physics at Bar-Ilan University, was subsequently fired from his post, faced a widespread social media campaign against him, and was ostracized from his community in the city of Raanana.

He then managed to flee the country despite a stay of exit order being issued against him to prevent that. He escaped under a false identity using a forged passport.

Over the next several months, rabbinate officials and intelligence agencies tracked him in Cyprus, then Ukraine, England and finally Belgium, where he was arrested with help from Interpol, the Israel Police and the Justice Ministry.

Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office asked Belgium to extradite Guez to stand trial for offenses he was convicted of before his departure, as well as the crimes he committed while escaping Israel. It didn’t include his divorce refusal in its request.

View from the halls of the Rabbinical Court’s Division for Agunot (literally, chained women), Jerusalem, September 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The second legal precedent in the case was set in 2018, when a panel of three rabbis at the Haifa Rabbinical Court made the extremely rare decision to annul the couple’s marriage altogether, granting the woman the status of a single, never-married person.

The rabbinate has for years faced criticism for refusing to authorize marriages whose partners had signed a prenuptial agreement — a mechanism that retroactively annuls the marriage in case of a divorce refusal. That solution, advocated by an Orthodox organization that performs private wedding ceremonies, is considered too radical by many Orthodox rabbis.

Guez’s former wife married another man two weeks ago, possibly prompting him to finally board a plane to Israel. Hebrew-language reports indicated his return was voluntary rather than through extradition by Belgium.

Guez was arrested upon his exit from the plane at Ben Gurion Airport. He will be brought before a judge later Wednesday for a remand hearing.

“The rabbinical courts do not compromise in the battle against get refusal,” Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, the top rabbinate official dealing with divorce refusal cases, said in a statement.

“Guez’s return to Israel and his arrest at the airport pass a message to all get refusers — you cannot evade justice and torment your wives. Guez suffered over the past four years from being cut away from his relatives and children, failed in his mission to deny his wife a new life, and will be tried and face prison time for forging a passport and using a false identity, and possibly even criminal proceedings for get refusal,” he added.

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