Jerusalem rabbinical court says spousal abuse not grounds for divorce

Jerusalem rabbinical court says spousal abuse not grounds for divorce

Woman makes unusual appeal to attorney general after rabbis deny her motion to leave husband, blaming her divorce request itself for violent episode

Illustrative: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

An Israeli woman who was denied a divorce by a rabbinic court on the grounds of documented domestic violence has appealed to the state’s attorney general.

The woman’s lawyers made the unusual appeal Thursday following the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court’s rejection of her divorce motion. Her husband had been convicted and imprisoned for 75 days for assaulting his wife last year.

In Israel, religious tribunals function as family courts. According to Orthodox Jewish law, divorce is only possible if the husband consents to it. Rabbinical judges in most cases cannot force husbands to give their wives a divorce, though they can impose punishments – including imprisonment and dispossession – on those deemed to be abusing their wives but not granting them a divorce. Such women are called agunot in Hebrew, meaning chained.

In this case, the husband admitted to the domestic violence before the rabbinical court and expressed regret for his actions. The assault took place after the woman filed for divorce for the first time – an unsuccessful bid that the court rejected because the husband objected.

The woman refiled citing the assault conviction, but in dismissing the request, the court ascribed the violence to the woman’s desire to divorce her husband rather than any inherent will on his part to harm her, according to Mavoi Satum, a Jewish Orthodox organization working for so-called chained women.

Denouncing any violence against women, the judges said this applied “especially to such serious violence as described in the charge sheet.” However, “there is also no doubt that the husband’s outburst followed on the difficult conditions he is in as a result of the divorce suit his wife filed against him; and there is no doubt that if the wife accepted the husband’s request to attempt to return normal life together, this occurrence would not have happened,” the ruling by the three-judge panel read.

Mavoi Satum accused the court of “paying lip service” to the fight against domestic violence.

Hiddush, a civil rights watchdog group critical of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, said Friday that the ruling “reminds us of attitudes towards wife-beating in Israel’s neighboring countries.” The statement added that it was an instance of “blaming the victim, which is so repulsive though common in rape cases.”

Each year in Israel, approximately 18,000 women make domestic abuse complaints to police and about a dozen women are murdered by their spouses. Half of the women murdered belong to Israel’s Arab minority, which comprises approximately 20 percent of the population, according to the WIZO women’s rights group.

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