Precedent: Court Rules to “Shame” Recalcitrant Husband – and his Father

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Precedent: Rabbinical Court Publicizes Name and Picture of the Man Responsible for His Son’s Refusal to Issue a Get

For some fifteen years a man has refused to divorce his wife who became disabled after suffering a stroke. The rabbinical courts have deemed that Jacob Hoffman, a wealthy American Jew and the father of the recalcitrant husband, is behind his son’s decision to oppose the divorce. After Departure Prohibition Orders and fines totaling some one million NIS had no impact on the father – it was decided to make his name and picture public.

Kobi Nachshoni | July 29, 2020 

Another shaming ruling under the aegis of the Rabbinical Courts – this time against the father of a get-refuser, who is responsible for his son’s actions: the regional rabbinical court of Tel Aviv has permitted publicizing the name and picture of Jacob Hoffman, an American citizen who has been found responsible for his son’s decision to oppose a divorce, so denying the wife her freedom for some fifteen years.

Hoffman senior is at the center of one of the most famous cases of get-refusal in Israel.

In 2016 the rabbinical court, in an unprecedented step, decided he would serve time for his responsibility for his son’s refusal to divorce his daughter-in-law. The decision has been delayed and his sentence has not yet been imposed, but meanwhile he has been fined a total of one million NIS, in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling. For years he has been forbidden to leave the country to return to his home in the United States. It has now been decided to add public shaming as an additional means of putting pressure on him and obtaining his son’s divorce.

The couple married over twenty years ago and lived abroad, where their two children were born. Some fifteen years ago they came to Israel on a visit, during which time the wife suffered a severe stroke and was left disabled. Following the stroke, her husband abandoned her and their children and returned to the United States – and has since kept her in a state of aginut. The wife is being represented by Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center for Agunot.

The rabbinical court ruled that the husband must give his wife a get. However, the husband ignored the ruling and did not even bother to appeal it. In an attempt to understand his motives, the rabbinical court’s agunot department conducted an investigation in both Israel and the US. The investigation revealed that the husband’s father, a wealthy businessman known for his generous donations to religious institutes in the haredi sector, and his wife, are the ones directly responsible for the daughter-in-law’s being an aguna.

One of the harshest aguna cases

When the parents visited Israel, the rabbinical court dayanim (judges) summoned them to testify, and in an unprecedented decision issued Departure Prohibition Orders against them. At the end of a long series of discussions and investigations, the Tel Aviv rabbinical court determined that the father “is the one primarily and actively behind his son’s refusal to divorce his wife, his daughter-in-law. If he so wishes he may extend her state of aginut, and if he so wishes he may end it. For this reason, appropriate sanctions should be taken against him.”

Dayan Rabbi Shlomo Shtessman, who defined this case as “one of the harshest aguna cases that the rabbinical court system is coping with,” has now ruled in favor of publishing the man’s name, Jacob Hoffman.

The decision further stated that “throughout the entire procedure the court was forced to cope with ongoing, systematic attempts by proxies of Mr. Hoffman to throw the judicial process off track.” He was accused of attempts to “cause the judicial process to fail and to influence its outcome” through false and manipulative publications in the media.

“There is no pardon for stolen years”

From the legal team of the woman refused the get, Prof. Aviad Hacohen said in response to the decision: “Publicizing the names of the get-refusing father and son is an essential step. It is inconceivable that people who are responsible for a woman being refused a divorce for fifteen years can go about their business and live their lives as though nothing has happened. The time has come for their names to go down in history in eternal disgrace until they release this woman from the prison of aginut she is in because of them.”

Pnina Omer, director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha which has been representing the woman added: “This is one of the cruelest cases of aginut we have helped with. There is no pardon for stealing so many years from this woman. Unfortunately, even though the rabbinical court headed by Rabbi Shlomo Shtessman has made enormous efforts to end this case, and the entire system has stepped in to promote her freedom, the husband and his father are entrenched in their senseless refusal. We will continue to fight for the freedom of this aguna, for however long it takes.”

Hoffman has been claiming the entire time that he actually wants his son to divorce, but his son does not heed him. When the court’s ruling was made public he issued a statement through his associates as if to say he was pleased with the shaming, and even gave himself credit for requesting it (which is not corroborated in court protocols). He claims that, “The woman’s efforts to obtain a get should and must be directed at the only person who can give her a get – namely, her husband.”

Regarding the publicizing of his name, his associates added: “Recently Hoffman was made to pay a fine of some one and a half million NIS because of the court’s accusations that he is involved in delaying the issuance of the get. If the picture of George Washington on the backs of hundreds of thousands of bills was not enough to convince his son to grant a divorce – will the father’s picture do any good?”

Read this article (in Hebrew) on the Ynet website

Previous precedents in this Yad La’isha case: 

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