Agunah's long plight ends

Private rabbinical court finds loopholes in 20-year aguna's marriage, opening door to freedom but carrying dangers.

Shimon Cohen,

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Mordechai Sones
In an unprecedented step, an Orthodox rabbinical court yesterday retroactively annulled the marriage of the longest-standing agunah in Israel, Tzvia Gorodetsky, who for 20 years fought for her right to divorce and open a new chapter in her life.

In the judgment, which covers more than 70 pages, the dayanim explained that Meir and Tzvia's marriage had never been valid. The dayanim brought up a series of arguments, including the assumption that Tzvia would not have married Meir had she known about his personality traits. It was also determined that Tzvia purchased the ring with which the consecration took place, in contravention of the halakhah that requires the ring to be bought with the man's money.

Arutz Sheva spoke about the precedent-setting decision and its significance with attorney Uri Nachmani, who specializes in family law. At the outset, we wondered how the epiphany that led to this loophole could have taken Israel's rabbinic judicial system twenty years to realize.

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Mordechai Sones

In response, Adv. Nachmani emphasizes that "the epiphany didn't happen within the accepted court system, but in a private court. In fact, they are still married," he explains, noting that Gorodetsky made it clear that she intended to erase the divorce claim because the new ruling indicates that she was never married in the first place.

This reality may lead to a problematic situation in which "if the ruling isn't approved by the rabbinical court and official institutions, she'll be considered married there, but from the religious point of view she'll be regarded as single," says Nachmani, who says that in this case the husband will be released from prison, because he will never have been married.

"I hope the Rabbinical Court helps her recover from the agonies of being an agunah and accepts this ruling, that they take from it the appropriate principles and redeem her forever. If the court chooses not to do so, as plaintiff she still has the right to withdraw her statement of claim for divorce and erase all proceedings."

As for the woman herself, Nachmani adds that "she chooses to declare that she doesn't care what the Rabbinical Court decides and she relies on the unofficial alternative court." When asked whether the Rabbinical Court could clarify that while there were defects in Gorodetsky's marriage, since she turned to a private court the Rabbinical Court would not be able to accept the case and demand that the woman reopen the case with them, Nachmani says such an eventuality is possible. But then "if the court chooses to argue that way in this manner, it'll be possible to view the judgment as an opinion rather than a binding decision."

However, Nachmani estimates "the Rabbinical Court will find it difficult to accept the case because there's concern over the slippery slope, because any couple could try to annul a marriage in such a way. But this is a particularly exceptional case, so there's room to accommodate her and allow her to continue her life."

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Mordechai Sones

He says this precedent could create "a dangerous new opening for annulling marriages from their inception, bringing problems of illegitimacy. The court tries to preserve the family framework to prevent countless legal problems."

However, he believes "the Rabbinical Court knows how to formulate matters so such claims will be filtered out while releasing the agunahs." He notes that in this case that continued for two decades, the court was unable to compel the husband to grant a get divorce writ despite the harsh steps they took against him. "In such cases, one must think outside the box."

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