Knesset to OK Bill Against Male 'Get' Refusers

Bill would force Rabbinical Courts to discuss sanctions against recalcitrant husbands 30 days after 'get' was ordered.

Gil Ronen ,

Signing feminist petition in Jerusalem.
Signing feminist petition in Jerusalem.
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will debate and presumably approve for final reading Tuesday a bill that would force Rabbinical Courts to discuss sanctions against recalcitrant husbands within 30 days after the court ruled that the husband must sign a divorce decree ('get').

The bill was initiated by Mavoi Satum, an NGO that fights for the rights of divorcing women in the rabbinical courts.

According to the organization, while there is a law in place that makes it possible to place sanctions on "get refusers," the Courts do not make use of it often enough, despite its "proven efficacy against get refusers."

Religious women who are refused gets suffer deeply, in that they cannot legally get remarried. This suffering can be used to extort concessions from them in the divorce proceedings.

The proposed bill, the group says, "is a step in the fight against the evil of get refusal, and for an end to the abuse and blackmail of women in the divorce procedure."

Mavoi Satum ("Dead End") is funded, among other donors, by the New Israel Fund – a fund that espouses radical leftist causes and is hostile to the orthodox Jewish establishment and its values. The NGO regularly and aggressively lobbies against the promotion of Rabbinical Judges whom it sees as insufficiently sensitive to the rights of women.

While Mavoi Satum places its spotlight on blackmail and get refusal by men, its critics have pointed out that it ignores similar evils committed by women. These include false accusations of violence that serve to distance the men from their own children and are also used for blackmail and extortion.

A 2007 study conducted by the Rabbinical Courts showed that there were more female get refusers than male ones. It also determined that the total number of "chained" women in Israel is less than 200 -- a far cry from the thousands or even tens of thousands claimed by militant feminist advocates.

While refusal by a man to grant a get prevents a woman from being legally remarried, refusal by a woman to receive the get also makes it difficult for the man to get remarried, and additionally forces him to pay her alimony if she convinces the court she is not employed. Some men have been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels in alimony for get-refuser wives over decades in this way.

An additional criticism of groups like Mavoi Satum is that their deeper aim is to inject confrontational politics into the relations between the sexes and to make divorce as easy and tempting as possible for women, thus undermining the institution of marriage. Talmudic sages who discussed the obligation of a man to sign a ketuba – a commitment to pay money to his wife upon divorce – justified it by saying that divorce should not be decided upon lightly, and that the ketuba would force a man to think twice about divorce. This approach appears to contrast with the gender-based militancy of groups like Mavoi Satum.