For the first time in its history, the State of Israel will provide a solution for agunot (women who are unable to remarry because their husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce), as well as men who find themselves in a similar situation, even if they are not Israeli citizens. Today, the Israeli government issued a memorandum which grants the rabbinical courts international authority over cases of agunot.
Another issue which was dealt with is the issue of Jewish men and women, mostly from the former Soviet Union, whose marriage documents have been lost overseas or whose Jewish identity cannot be confirmed.
Until now, state religious courts were authorized to deal only with cases of agunot in which at least one spouse is a citizen or resident of the state. As a result, the state has been unable to answer requests from agunot living abroad, or to apply sanctions against the recalcitrant husband.
The Conference of European Rabbis, headed by Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, turned to the Israeli rabbinical courts to find solutions for these agunot.
The explanatory notes of the memorandum state that "The Conference of European Rabbis and other parties have raised the issue of the difficulties faced in situations where [husbands from] couples from around the world who have been married according to Torah law refrain from divorcing their wives, leaving them as agunot without the possibility of remarrying. In some cases they even ignore the rulings of the local court in the absence of jurisdiction on the part of the local court to force the husband to divorce and to impose sanctions on him in order to grant a get to his wife."
The notes continued: "The centrality of the State of Israel as a Jewish nation-state and its importance in the life of Jews around the world, in contrast to the inability of Jewish women around the world to find a solution to the problems of refusal of divorce, justifies granting this authority to the Rabbinical Court in Israel."
Religious Services Minister Rabbi David Azoulay (Shas) praised the move.
"I congratulate the Rabbinical Courts, which are working intensively and uncompromisingly to find a remedy for the plight of the agunot by expanding the jurisdiction of the rabbinic courts, even [if the parties] are not citizens of the state. The State of Israel is a Jewish State and as such it should provide relief to every Jew, wherever they may be and anywhere in the world."
Rabbi Shimon Jacobi, the director of the Rabbinical Courts, thanked all the bodies and entities that cooperated in promoting this memorandum. "This is a significant and necessary step for many women around the world in order to respond to their distress and chained status. The proposed amendment will allow women and men to end a marriage and allow the agunot to begin a new chapter in their lives."