Battle to revoke divorce of 'bound' woman heats up

Supreme Court called in to adjudicate case of woman who received divorce after husband entered coma - but caused a rabbinic controversy.

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David Rosenberg,

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Flash 90

A woman who was granted a divorce after her husband entered a persistent vegetative state a decade ago has turned to the Supreme Court to block an effort by a rabbinical court to nullify the divorce as halakhically invalid.

In 2014, S. was given a divorce in a rare move by a religious court in the northern city of Tzfat, seven years after her husband was severely injured in a car accident and left in a vegetative state.

While divorces in Jewish law must be granted by the husband and require the consent of both parties, in this instance the husband was physically unable to grant the divorce.

Because doctors described his comatose state as permanent, the Tzfat court, led by Rabbi Uriel Lavi, issued a unique gett zikkui, whereby they acted as apotropus (legal guardian) in the place of the comatose husband to fulfill what they believed to be his will, that his wife should be unbound from him and allowed to remarry, due to his condition.

The decision received the support of some rabbinic figures in the Torah world, including the highly regarded halakhic authority and rabbinic court judge, Rabbi Zalman Nehemiya Goldberg, who endorsed the use of the gett zikkui. Others rabbinic authorities, however, including Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, opposed the ruling.

Shortly after the ruling was issued and the divorce granted, Reuven Cohen, who opposed the decision but is unconnected to the couple in question, filed an appeal with the Supreme Rabbinic Court – the Chief Rabbinate’s highest judicial body – to challenge the divorce. This is an unusual step in the rabbinic courts, although Israel's Supreme Courts constantly accept suits filed by uninvolved parties.

Two months ago, the Supreme Rabbinic Court and the chief rabbis decided to take on the case, in a move blasted by Mavoi Satum – The Organization for the Rights of Abandoned Women.

Mavoi Satum CEO Batya Kahane-Dror turned to the Supreme Court on behalf of the divorced woman to block the Supreme Rabbinic Court from nullifying the lower rabbinic court’s decision.

Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Mavoi Satum and a member of the Tzohar organization, defended the divorce issued by the Tzfat court and upbraided those behind the effort to nullify it.

“Throughout history, Jewish religious leaders went out of their way to free women [bound in marriages they wished to leave]. Sometimes they even did things which [on the face of it] appeared to contradict the laws of the Torah.”

While Rabbi Stav said a public debate over the methods used in the divorce was valid, the campaign to renege on a divorce already issued was illegitimate.

“You can’t take advantage of technical authority [over the lower court] to nullify a divorce that was already approved. According to Jewish law, a court cannot nullify a separate court’s decision if it was properly rendered. There is no way that a court will actively work to make a woman bound again to her [former marriage] when neither the husband’s family nor the wife made any appeal on the decision. I hope that the case will not be heard [by the Supreme Rabbinic Court] for the sake of the woman, for the sake of Jewish law, and for the sake of all of us.”