16 year agunah freed from marriage after rabbinical court rulings
After suffering a debilitating stroke, a woman’s husband abandoned her and refused to give her a divorce, until legal pressure from the rabbinical courts and the High Court of Justice.
By JEREMY SHARON | June 9, 2021
A woman who suffered a debilitating stroke which left her disabled and whose husband deserted her as a result and refused to give a bill of divorce for 16 years, was finally freed from her long-defunct marriage on Tuesday night.
The case involves landmark halachic and legal decisions first by the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, then by the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and finally by the High Court of Justice which identified the multi-millionaire father of the husband as they key obstacle to a divorce, fined him and denied him the right to leave Israel until the divorce was issued.
Having been stuck in Israel for five years since 2016, facing mounting fines, and with the High Court of Justice upholding this situation last year, it appears the father finally relented and permitted his son to issue a bill of divorce on Tuesday night through a rabbinical court in New York.
In 2005, an American ultra-Orthodox couple were on a a trip to Israel. During the visit, the wife, identified only as D, suffered a medical brain trauma leaving her permanently disabled, following which her husband eventually abandoned her and their children in Israel, returned to the US and refused to grant her a divorce ever since.
The wife’s legal team has said that the husband’s recalcitrance was due to him somehow having been insulted and angered by his wife’s request for a divorce after he behaved inappropriately while visiting her before the marriage broke down, and abandoned her.
The Tel Aviv rabbinical court ruled in 2013 that the man was obligated to grant a divorce, but he ignored the decision.
The wife’s legal advocate Devorah Brisk of Yad La’isha, the Legal Aid Center for agunot run by Ohr Torah Stone determined back in 2012 that the husband’s recalcitrance was being directed by his father, a well known and very wealthy businessman from the from the Erlau hassidic community in the US who has donated significantly to the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community and the Erlau community in particular, was behind his son’s divorce recalcitrance.
And when the rabbinical court investigated the husband’s motivation in refusing to grant the divorce for so long, it too discovered that the father was the primary cause of the son’s divorce refusal, and that the father was providing his son with accommodation, funding his expensive legal team from New York, and providing him with income.
The Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court accepted D’s petition against her husband and his father, and when the father and his wife came to Israel for a visit in 2016, the court issued an order banning them from leaving the country and summoned them to give testimony to the court.
The court at one stage even sentenced the father to 30 days imprisonment, although subsequently changed this penalty to the NIS 5,000 fine a day fine in August 2018, a ruling supported by the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
The High Court of Justice last year agreed that the father of the recalcitrant husband was indeed encouraging his son not to give a divorce, and upheld the fines which at the time totalled NIS 920,000, but not amount to close to NIS 2 million.
An additional fine of $120,000 was issued against the husband in New York in a local civil court case to pay for child support he had refused to pay.
As a result of these continued combined measures and pressure, the man finally agreed to grant D her freedom on condition that she comes to New York with her children and receive the get in the Beit Din in New York, a demand with which she complied.
Ohr Torah Stone provided D with 24-hour security and full time medical support due to her fragile health, and was accompanied by her advocate, Devorah Brisk.
“Thank you God for allowing me to reach this moment and with all my heart I am now able to say the blessing as a freed prisoner,” said D upon receiving the bill of divorce, according to Yad La’isha.
“In many ways, I still can’t believe that I have made it to this point and it will take some time to completely absorb what I’ve been through over the past 16 years… My message to other women who are forced to deal with these situations is that you should never, ever give up because you too can achieve this successful result.
“I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude to Yad La’isha and the Rabbinical Court that turned over every possible stone and never held back in bringing this painful saga to this successful end.”
Director of Yad La’isha Pnina Omer described the issuance of the divorce as “incredibly emotional,” and that staff at the organization had been dreaming of this moment for a long time.
She was however critical of the ongoing failure within the Jewish world to prevent such suffering.
“Alongside the joy we feel today we can’t forget the pain of 16 lost years,” said Omer.
“The voyage that Jewish women are sometimes forced to take to freedom is all too often more than an individual can handle. We can therefore only hope for halakhic [Jewish law] solutions that will present a lasting answer for agunot. But until, then we pledge for be here to fight for their freedom.”
Director of the Rabbinical Courts Administration Rabbi David Malka welcomed the development and praised the Tel Aviv and Supreme rabbinical courts for their landmark decisions against the father of the recalcitrant husband.
“The regional and Supreme Rabbinical Court acted createively together with the legal advisers of the rabbinical courts and other legal frameworks in order to save the woman from a severe humanitarian crisis,” said Malka.
President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone Rabbi Kenneth Brander said that the case demonstrated how Jewish and civil law could create practical avenues to address the most challenging cases of divorce refusal.
“But it also sends a message to all recalcitrant husbands everywhere that we are prepared and willing to go to all lengths and travel all distances to ensure that agunot are afforded the freedom they so deserve,” said Brander.
“This is a crucial issue in Judaism which demands to be addressed and resolved in a comprehensive and lasting manner so the pain of women like D need not be felt again.”