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High Court rules against Rabbinical Court: "Heaven forbid"

Judges rules that for next 21 days rabbinical court may not rule on efficacy of divorce granted to woman by comatose husband.

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Arutz Sheva Staff,

Elyakim Rubenstein
Elyakim Rubenstein
Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The High Court heard today (Wednesday) the petition of a woman against the Rabbinical Court presided over by Rishon Letzion Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who seeks to reajudicate the efficacy of a divorce (get) granted to a woman by her comatose husband.

The court forbade the rabbinical court to discuss the divorce's legitimacy for 21 days, until a decision on the woman's petition is forthcoming. During this period, the High Rabbinical Court will be in contact with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

The Vice-President of the Supreme Court, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein criticized the decision of Rabbi Yosef to reopen discussion on a get that had already been granted and released a woman from aguna status because the divorce had already been granted. "The court is not a place for symposiums, but rather for judicial decisions . Make a seminar, write articles, but why tamper with things?"

Rubinstein then asked the Legal Adviser to the rabbinical courts if he "knows of a precedent where a man from off the street with no connection to the case submits an appeal and the court is willing to discuss it? He would be shown the door immediately. Who would touch it? What role has he in this story? To summon 11 judges for an expanded hearing [as the Chief Rabbi did]? I understand that this is an halakhic dispute, one hundred percent, but to [actually adjudicate it] in court?"

In 2014, S. was given a divorce in a rare and unprecedented 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. A halakhic get must be granted by the husband and accepted by the wife. The rabbinic court in this case decided that they could be the husband's legal guardian and that he would have wanted to grant the divorce, calling it a get zicui. That principle, however, is used for receiving a get and is a passive, not an active, concept according to other rabbinic authorities.

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 on halakhic grounds.

This is an unusual step in the rabbinic courts, although Israel's Supreme Courts constantly accept suits filed by uninvolved parties. Most of the cases involving land ownership in Judea and Samaria are filed by leftist NGOs which do not claim ownership of the land.

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.

Outside the Supreme Court MKs and women's groups demonstrated against Rabbi Yosef's decision. MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) said that "unfortunately, in the struggle for the Jewish character of the State of Israel - we're lucky to have the Supreme Court. Let us hope that today it will have its say about the petition you submitted".

"We have to thank the one we call 'the agunah from Tzfat'; thanks to her, some of the fog will clear. Perhaps a result of this struggle will be that many young couples in Israel who do not want to marry today in the Jewish way - just so as not to fall into the hands of those who would cast doubt upon their divorce if they are forced to divorce - will get married according to the laws of Moses and Israel. Therefore the merit in this struggle belongs to this agunah and it is much wider and more important for the future of the Jewish state of Israel," claimed Stern.

This, however, is not a women's rights issue nor is it a civil rights issue, but a halakhic one. In the past, Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog and YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Herschel Shachter both expressed serious reservations about using the halakhic concept used in granting the divorce, granting a get zicui. Current Sephardic Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef would like to clarify its use in this case by convening a rabbinic court of 11, since it there is no precedent for it being applied in this way.