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Friday, February 22, 2013

Israel’s chief justice sides with rabbis in divorce case, drawing fire from women organizations

Chief Justice Asher Grunis

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis has overruled the High Court of Justice and given the Rabbinical Appeals Court the power to decide the fate of a man jailed for refusing for 10 years to grant his wife a divorce. Grunis’ decision was blasted by womens’ groups as grossly unjust.

The man was ordered jailed for six months by a local rabbinical court last October. Then the Rabbinical Appeals Court ordered the man freed unless his wife dropped her civil suit in the secular courts. Then the High Court of Justice overruled the Rabbinical Appeals Court and ordered the man to remain in jail. Finally on Wednesday, Grunis overruled the High Court, throwing the case back to the Rabbinical Appeals Court. Meanwhile, he ordered the husband kept in jail, ruling that the rabbinical judges, who meet again in a week and a half, is authorized to continue the man’s imprisonment or to release him “at its discretion.”

In late January the wife petitioned the High Court of Justice along with several womens rights groups, claiming the rabbinical court was trying to “deny the civil courts their clear authority to hear and rule in family damage claims ... while undermining the petitioner’s basic rights and preferring a situation in which the recalcitrant husband benefits.”

The petition was served by Mavoi Satum, an Israeli NGO that fights for the rights of women going through divorce in the rabbinical courts. The organizations Na’amat, WIZO, Kol Haisha ‏(The Woman’s Voice‏) and Kolech ‏(Your Voice‏) joined the petition.

“The Rabbinical Court ruling, now backed by the High Court, is a slippery slope,” said attorney Batia Kahana-Dror of Mavoi Satum.

“In deciding to return the jurisdiction about the recalcitrant husband to the Rabbinical Court, the High Court is refusing to grant justice to a woman who now has nowhere to turn. Grunis is ignoring the woman’s exploitation to avoid interfering in the rabbinical courts’ authority, even when it’s clear they trample every basic right our democratic system is based on,” she said.

The husband’s lawyer, Uri Zamberg, said the High Court “realized its ruling was pointless and handed the reins back to the Rabbinical Court. I hope the husband’s expected release in two weeks will lead to a [divorce] settlement. He hopes so too, the problem isn’t only with him. The other side won’t compromise either,” he said.

The Rabbinical Court of Appeals − the top rabbinical court of appeals − is chaired by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and included Rabbi Tzion Boaron and Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a candidate for the post of chief rabbi.

The proceedings began when the wife filed for divorce in 2002. After four years, the local rabbinical court ruled that the husband was obliged to divorce his wife. The husband then toughened his conditions for granting the divorce.

In 2010, the wife filed a civil damages claim against her husband in family court. In the husband’s appeal, the rabbinical judges argued that the civil suit constituted improper interference with the court’s discretion, as well as with the husband’s discretion to grant his wife a divorce.

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