The Rabbinical High Court on Thursday appealed to the public for help in locating a man who it had previously publicly named and excommunicated in effort to pressure him into giving his wife a divorce.
Oded Guez, a physicist at Bar-Ilan University who has for years been refusing to divorce his wife, did not turn up for a court hearing earlier in the week and there has been no sign of him since. The court said it feared that if Guez is not found his wife could remain a woman “chained” to her marriage for years to come.
“Anyone who knows the location of, or who met with him during the last 48 hours, is asked to contact the Agunot Department at the Rabbinical Court at any time at telephone number 050-6094345,” the court administration said.
In Judaism, women who are not given a get, or Jewish divorce, by their husbands are called agunot or “chained women,” as they cannot remarry according to Orthodox Jewish law. Any children they have out of wedlock may not marry under religious Orthodox law. Religious judges do not have the authority to nullify marriages of reluctant husbands.
According to the Hebrew-language Ynet website, authorities do not believe that Guez has left the country. Haaretz reported he was seen on Monday in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Guez’s wife, whose identity has not been publicized, is living in a women’s shelter with her two children.
The court noted that Guez had recently given indications that the matter of his divorce was finally going to be resolved but that it now seems it was just a delaying tactic.
“The public is called to cooperate and help to release the woman to freedom on the eve of a festival in which the Jewish people commemorate their exit from slavery to freedom,” the court said in reference to the Passover festival, which begins on Friday night and celebrates the biblical Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt.
In February, 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 after a week earlier the Rabbinical High Court of Appeals issued a herem — a writ of banishment — against Guez.
The university said Guez had already been suspended from working at the institute’s physics department a year ago, Haaretz reported at the time.
The rabbinical court’s herem said Guez is not to be honored, hosted, allowed to attend synagogue or even be asked as to his health or visited at home if he is ill, among other prohibitions, “until he relents from his stubbornness and listens to his betters and he unchains his wife and gives her a get [religious divorce].”
The unusual sentence was issued after Guez failed to show up for a hearing. He had appealed against the rabbinical court’s ruling last year to publish his name but lost at the High Court of Justice.
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.