Wedding (illustration)
Wedding (illustration)iStock

A state religious court in Haifa recently made an extraordinary ruling, permitting a man who was denied a divorce by his estranged wife to remarry – while still legally married to his first wife.

According to Jewish tradition, divorce documents – known as “gets” – must be given by the husband of his own free will to his wife, who must accept the divorce.

Refusal by the husband to grant the divorce, or of the wife to accept it, prevents the dissolution of the marriage.

Religious courts often impose sanctions on recalcitrant husbands – including orders barring them from being allowed to participate in public prayer ceremonies – though women refusing to accept divorces often present a challenge for courts.

While the Knesset has pushed legislation mandating heavy punishments for recalcitrant husbands, female ‘get refusers’ are not subject to prison terms for their refusal, and may even continue to collect alimony payments from estranged husbands they deny divorces to.

Recently, a state religious court in Haifa offered one man denied a divorce by his estranged wife the opportunity to remarry despite his first wife’s refusal, by way of an unusual ruling, permitting him to be married, technically speaking, to two different women at the same time.

The husband, a resident of Haifa who has been separated from his wife for eight years, told the court that his wife had maintained relationships with other men, yet refused to accept a divorce.

Despite the husband’s willingness to give the couple’s apartment to his estranged wife, the woman told the court she would not accept a divorce.

“I’ll never divorce him under any circumstances. Only death can separate us. I won’t accept a divorce. Till death do we part.”

The court, headed by Rabbi Avraham Meir Shalush, found that the couple “will never live together as a couple, ever.”

“The wife is unwilling to accept the divorce… despite repeated rulings by the court, the woman remains steadfast in her position and refuses to accept the divorce.”

Polygamy has been prohibited amongst Ashkenazi Jews for a millennium, and was already a rare occurrence among Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews in Israel by the time the Knesset banned the practice in 1977.

In extremely rare instances, however, men have been permitted to marry while still technically married to another woman, when the first wife refuses to accept a divorce.

For Ashkenazi Jews, subject to the millennium-old ban on polygamy, such arrangements require the agreement of 100 rabbis.

Because the husband is a member of the Mizrachi (‘Eastern’) community in Israel, the court found that he is not obliged to receive the support of 100 rabbis, and may be permitted to remarry with only the approval of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef.