The biannual conference of the standing committee of the Conference of European Rabbis was held online this year. Participating in the discussions was the head of the Knesset’s Regulatory Committee, MK Yaakov Asher of the United Torah Judaism party.
MK Asher praised the work of the Conference and told its President, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, that, “The amendment made to the laws regulating rabbinical courts in Israel that grants them legal authority in cases of agunot [women estranged from their husbands whose husbands refuse to divorce them -ed.] for women living outside Israel has led to 80 women being freed of their agunah status, from all over the world.”
He added that, “You, who proposed this important amendment, have brought honor to the Torah, and I consider this to be one of your most significant achievements. I was actually amazed and taken aback at how some Knesset members – those who love to raise the flag of democracy and women’s rights – chose to oppose this amendment, simply because in their eyes, it would have the ‘dreadful’ result of improving the standing of the rabbinical courts.”
The amendment to the law relating to husbands who refuse to give their wives a “get” (halakhic divorce) was passed two and a half years ago in the Knesset, and gave the Israeli rabbinical courts the authority to rule on cases of agunot living abroad, and to make use of various judicial means, including sanctions and punishment against the get refuser, in the event that he visited Israel.
Speaking at the conference, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt described the legislative process he has been working on for the past few years: “From the day when Israel announced that it will not provide sanctuary for get refusers, 119 appeals were submitted to the rabbinical courts there. The result of those appeals was that 85 files were opened with restrictive orders placed on the husbands concerned, and 57 agunot received a get and were freed from their former status.”
Rabbi Goldschmidt noted that the appeals came from countries all over the world, including Mexico, Peru, the U.S., France, Turkey, and Great Britain.
“I received data from rabbinical courts in the UK, France, Moscow, Amsterdam, Germany, and Turkey, showing me that the amendment to the law had provided a solution for at least 23 women – and possibly many more, who relented from their stance out of fear of what would happen to them if they set foot in Israel,” he noted. “For the meantime, however, the amendment is only a temporary measure, to remain in place for the next three years – it should be made permanent,” he said.
MK Asher responded that discussions related to making the amendment a permanent addition to the law were already underway.
Also addressing the conference, Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, head of the special rabbinical court for agunot and the head of the Agudat Harabbanim of the United States and Canada, said that “the tears of the agunot interceded for them before G-d.” He related several details of a particular case he was involved in, one that was resolved due to this amendment to the law.
“This case related to a Brooklyn resident who had, for the past decade or more, refused to give his wife a get. Over the years, five different rabbinical courts attempted to resolve the case, and the husband was issued with two separate ‘contempt of court’ rulings, one of which was signed by a very prominent Chassidic leader. Nonetheless, all these attempts failed. The man visited Israel several times, using forged passports. A year ago, we found out that the man was on his way to Israel to attend the wedding of his son. We traced him through three different airports and eventually tracked him down on a flight from Philadelphia to Israel.
“The moment he got off his flight, around an hour before Shabbat began, he was arrested and taken to jail,” Rabbi Ralbag continued. “On Saturday night, the day before the wedding, he was brought before the rabbinical court in Jerusalem where he once again refused to grant his wife a get. Instead, he tried to negotiate with the rabbis, saying that if they freed him to go to his son’s wedding, he would give his wife a get. The rabbinical court refused to release him, as he had several forged passports in his possession and there was a reasonable probability that he would flee once released. He sat in jail for four months, during which he was brought back to the rabbinical court several times, until finally, he broke and gave his wife the long-awaited get.”