Precedential Ruling for Get-Refuser’s Father

Israeli Supreme Court hands down precedential ruling in case of get-refuser’s father

The Israeli Supreme Court handed down a precedent-setting ruling on Monday in one of the most publicized cases being handled by Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad L’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, stating strongly and uncompromisingly that the legal system will not lend a hand to individuals who assist get-refusers in chaining their wives.

Known in the Israeli press as “the case of the tycoon’s recalcitrant son,” the back-story involves an American couple with two children came on a family trip to Israel 14 years ago. During their vacation, the wife, D, had a stroke which left her permanently disabled; the husband subsequently abandoned her and their children in Israel, returned to the US and has refused to grant her a divorce ever since.

Yad L’isha won a chiyyuv get ruling from the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court almost three years ago (that obligates the husband to grant her a get), but D’s husband ignored the ruling.  Subsequent investigations exposed that in fact the husband’s father – a wealthy ultra-Orthodox businessman and philanthropist – was the force behind his refusal to grant the divorce; thus, when the father visited Israel in October 2015, Yad L’isha requested a stay-of-exit order, to prevent him from leaving the country and returning to the USA.  In March 2016, in an unprecedented step, the Tel Aviv Regional Court ruled to incarcerate the father (dubbed “the tycoon” by the Israeli press) on the grounds that he was responsible for his son’s refusal to divorce D.  The “tycoon,” who argues that he cannot be held responsible for his son’s actions, filed numerous appeals; eventually, the case was heard by the Supreme Court of Israel.

On Monday, in a precedent-setting decision, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Deputy President Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, and Judge Hanan Meltzer ruled that the Israeli rabbinical court has the authority to impose sanctions and additional punishments on any individual who persuades a man to refuse his wife a get, a Jewish bill of divorce. “The rabbinical court has the authority to impose sanctions on the get-refuser’s father,” they wrote, adding that “the court has the power to even impose sanctions on an individual that the ruling did not originally refer to in the event that it becomes clear that this individual is the cause of the violation of the court’s decision.”

The court clarified that “reality and the human condition naturally lead to situations of influence and dependence” where the true violator of the court’s ruling to give a wife a get is not the spouse himself but rather a close relative, “and it is upon us—the court—to see the case within the context of the efforts of the rabbinical court to acquire freedom for a living agunah from her chains.”

Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, Director of the Rabbinical Court system, applauded the decision: “I am glad that the judges of the Supreme Court once again proved and strengthened the legitimacy and justice behind our uncompromising struggle against get refusers. This Supreme Court ruling makes a resolute public statement in the face of both get-refusers and those who support them in that even the encouragement and support of a man who makes his wife an agunah legally jeopardizes their future with sanctions.”

Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad L’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center responded to the ruling with a statement: “Today, the Supreme Court determined without a doubt that the Israeli justice system will not lend a hand to those who assist get-refusers in incarcerating their wives and making them agunot. By rejecting each one of the father-in-law’s claims and ruling that he is, indeed, the cause of this woman’s agunah status, the Supreme Court judges have removed one additional stone in the seemingly impenetrable wall standing in the face of chained women being refused their rightful divorce.

“The Supreme Court’s acknowledgment of the rabbinical courts’ authority to charge supporters of get-refusers as accomplices and to implement against them serious sanctions changes the playing field. Women’s rights has been changed—individuals, who until now were exempt of all responsibility and consequence for their actions, know that justice will be served. We at Yad L’isha will continue to fight against get-refusers and any individual that assists them, in order to free every woman from chains.”

To read the original Supreme Court ruling (in Hebrew):

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