Much harsher punishments are needed for individuals who refuse to grant their wives a Jewish divorce, said MK Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi). Ben-Dahan, a rabbi himself, and former administrator of the Rabbinic Courts of Israel, said that an incident Wednesday in which an individual who was in rabbinical court for divorce proceedings jumped out a window in order to escape the discussion was unacceptable, and that legislation must be instituted to prevent this kind of behavior.
“This incident shows how difficult it is for many women to obtain a halakhic divorce, allowing them to remarry,” said Ben-Dahan. “The culprit in this case is actually considered a solid member of the community, who preferred to sit in jail for years rather than give a divorce to his wife!”
Under Jewish marriage and divorce laws – which have been adopted in their entirety as the law of the state – couples must obtain a special writ, called a “get,” in order to divorce. The get is granted by the husband, according to the Torah's explicit wording, and he then has to give his wife the sum in their marriage contract - a mandatory part of the contract - that places a financial burden on him. Sometimes husbands who do not want to pay the sums promised in the marriage contract attempt to avoid giving a get to their wives. The law in Israel prescribes a legal procedure in which rabbinical judges attempt to negotiate between the parties, and can meet sanctions on the husband if he refuses to sign the get. These include jail sentences and suspension of credit cards, for example.
On Wednesday, Haim Cohen, who was in prison for refusing to sign a get, was in rabbinical court to discuss his refusal. He managed to get away from guards, and jumped out a window on the second floor of the court building. He is now in hiding. Police began a large-scale search for him, with a helicopter flying over central Jerusalem searching for him. On Wednesday, Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi Yonah Metzger appeared on all Israeli media outlets, appealing to Cohen to turn himself in.
Cohen has been in prison since 2007 for refusing to sign the get. Speaking on television, Rabbi Metzger said that the point of imprisoning Cohen and others like him was not to punish him, but to convince him to sign the get and alleviate the suffering of his wife, who is unable to remarry until she receives the get.
Ben-Dahan said that although individuals such as Cohen are jailed, their conditions in prison are clearly too easy. “I believe that if we make things harder for them they will be more amenable to granting the get. I intend to introduce legislations in the coming days that will prescribe much harder conditions for such prisoners. I believe that with proper legislation we can solve many of these cases,” he added.
Ben-Dahan was known for his major - and often successful - efforts to find husbands who had walked out on their wives without granting a get, obtaining funds to send investigative teams to distant countries to find them when necessary.