A recent study of unresolved divorce cases over the past two years in the Chief Rabbinate shows that some 180 women are "chained" to their husbands, while a slightly higher amount of men are "chained" to their wives.

Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the Director-General of the Rabbinical Courts, says this shows that "the claims by women's organizations of thousands of women whose husbands refuse to give them divorces have no basis in reality."

In addition, the numbers show that men are slightly more likely than women to fall victim to "divorce blackmail" by their spouse. 

A spouse becomes "chained" when the divorce proceedings have ended, yet his or her spouse refuses to agree to the divorce.  A woman suffers more in this situation, as she is Biblically forbidden to marry again, and children she might bear to another man would be considered bastards according to Halakhah [Jewish Law].  A man is similarly not permitted to marry before being divorced, but the ban is much less severe, and in any event his future children will not be considered illegitimate.

The Rabbinate considered the 942 divorce cases that were opened before 2005 and were still unresolved by the end of 2006 - a fraction of the cases that were opened during the period in question.  Some 16,000 divorce proceedings are begun each year.

Specifically, the review analyzed nearly 350 of the unresolved cases - but which were active in 2005 - and came up with the following numbers: Some 19% remain open because the husband refuses to grant a divorce, while about 20% are open because of the wife's refusal. 

Another 13% of the cases remain unresolved because of monetary disputes between the husband and wife.  Herein lies a tricky phenomenon, however.  "How do we know that the words 'monetary dispute' do not conceal a demand by one of the sides to pay high sums of money for the other's consent to a divorce?"  So asked Arutz-7 of Haggai Seri, founder of the "Fathers" Organization, a once-divorced, twice-married activist on behalf of husbands' rights. 

"The question is a correct one," Seri said, "and each case must be carefully checked.  There are cases where just demands are being made, and others that are simply out of spite. For instance, I know a case where the wife stipulated a custody agreement giving the husband three days a week of rights, compared to her four; the husband said, 'We are parents equally, and until you recognize that, you won't get a divorce.' The very next day, she changed the agreement to reflect a 50-50 division... That is not considered blackmail, but rather his right to gain what he clearly deserves."

The Knesset, at the end of its recent session this summer, voted into law a bill that allows Rabbinical courts to impose sanctions on spouses who refuse to grant a divorce.  Seri said he welcomes the law, "but only if it is imposed bilaterally, and not only on husbands."

The law authorizes the courts to issue restraining orders to recalcitrant spouses - orders that can forbid him/her to leave the country, hold a driver's license or bank account, or even, in some cases, to hold a job.  The courts can even, in extreme cases, order his or her incarceration or, if he/she is already in prison, their isolation.  The sanctions can also include the confiscation of monies and property, as well as the full or partial negation of payments and stipends. 

"The bill is designed to force a divorce in cases where the Court has decided that one must be issued," said MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP), who sponsored it together with Likud MK Gideon Saar.