One in three women in the process of getting a divorce in Israel is subject to threats for a "get" (Jewish divorce) refusal and financial or other extortion on the part of her husband, according to a survey conducted by the Geocartography research institute for the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University.
The figures are even more alarming in the religious and ultra-Orthodox sector, where every other woman is threatened with a "get" refusal or blackmail. One in four women in the process of a divorce is concerned that she will be forced to make compromises and concessions in exchange for the "get."
The survey was conducted among a sample group of 320 Jewish women aged 30 something, who underwent divorce procedures (including women who are divorced today, women who got divorced in the past, separated women who underwent divorce procedures and women who are in the process of getting a divorce now).The sampling error is up to 5.5% at a 95% accuracy rate.
The sampling group represents all women who underwent divorce procedures in Israel, and a calculation of the data revealed that 77,000 women were exposed to threats of a "get" refusal or extortion during their divorce, out of the 220,800 women who underwent and are undergoing divorce procedures in Israel.
According to the survey, the phenomena of blackmail and threats against women seeking a divorce have long become a norm in Israel. About 70% of divorced women believe the agreement they signed will harm them, saying they only signed it after being subject to extortion and threats by their husbands during the separation.
Woman suffers more in complicated divorce
The figures were presented at the Agunah Summit held last month in New York University in the presence of representatives of Jewish communities worldwide, as well as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish.
Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, head of the Rackman Center, says the survey points to "a blatant and serious violation of basic human rightsin Israel," noting that the frequency of the phenomenon has increased in a troublesome rate in the past decade.
The survey's findings reveal a disturbing picture: Many men in Israel take advantage of the need for a religious divorce at the Rabbinate in order to improve their position in the divorce agreement.
Recent years have seen men demand concessions – sometimes far-reaching – from their wives in exchange for the divorce, while receiving the backing of the rabbinical court. In 40% of cases in which the divorce process was long and complicated, the final agreement was found to be significantly biased in favor of the men.
The survey also found a strong link between the couple's level of education and religiousness and the use of extortion measures for a divorce. The more religious and less educated the couple – the higher the woman's chances to be subject to threats of "get" refusal and blackmail.
Husband sets absurd conditions
Prof. Halperin-Kaddari says the main reason for the use of blackmail as a way to improve a man's position in the divorce agreement stems from the rabbinical courts' current halachic policy.
"Their tool is the 'divorce given under duress,' which I see as a complete distortion of Halacha," she says. "The idea behind this concept is that if the husband raises certain conditions which the court sees as 'reasonable,' the woman must meet them, otherwise it they will see it as a problematic 'get' from a halachic point of view – a divorce granted without real intention."
How absurd can the conditions set by the husband be? Halperin-Kaddari presents a ruling issued by the rabbinical court in the past, in which the agreement included a demand that the woman would not eat a certain kind of food or wear a certain piece of clothing.
"It's really the height of absurdity, and the court reneged on its decision in this case, yet it's important to see the extents this could reach, with food or personal nutrition becoming part of a ruling for all intents and purposes."
Halperin-Kaddari says the most common phenomenon is reducing alimony. "It goes as far as a case in which the husband demanded that alimony for two children be reduced from NIS 1,100 (about $300) to only NIS 700 ($190), in exchange for a divorce."
'Prenups don't provide full protection'
According to Halperin-Kaddari, some of the conditions a husband can impose on his wife, with the full backing of the court, include giving up on private or shared property and moving all issued under discussion, including custody and visitation rights, from the family court to the rabbinical court.
"This is allegedly about religious autonomy, and so the civil court cannot interfere," Halperin-Kaddari says. "The High Court cannot really solve the situation either, and the result is that women in Israel are subject to an intolerable situation of extortion, and a basic human right of freedom and liberty is grossly violated."
She further notes that standard prenuptial agreements which have become common in recent years do not provide sufficient protection against the phenomenon.
"I still recommend signing them, but one must know that it does not offer full protection. A husband can open the signed agreement today, and even demand that it be canceled as a condition for a divorce – and the rabbinical court will allow it."
So how many women are there in Israel who have been refused a divorce? Even in light of the survey's findings, that question is at the heart of the dispute between women's organizations and the rabbinical courts. The reason for the huge differences in numbers stems from the definition of "get refusal."
While the survey defines every women experiencing threats or extortion in exchange for a divorce as a woman refused a 'get' or at least in danger of being refused a 'get,' according to the rabbinical courts divorce recalcitrant are seen as husbands who were ordered by the court to grant their wives a divorce and refused – and there are very few of those.
Earlier this year, the rabbinical courts issued a report with their own figures, which revealed that in 2012 alone husbands were defined as "divorce recalcitrant" in only 80 cases out of thousands of divorce cases handled by the rabbinical courts every year.
Courts: Survey based on subjective feelings
The Rabbinical Courts Management said in response to the survey's findings that "the courts use modern methods to force a husband or a wife to grant a divorce or accept a divorce in cases of illegal refusal. In these cases, a 'get' is given within a month in the vast majority of cases.
"Clear and unequivocal factual data – rather than public opinion polls – were submitted to the Knesset's Constitution Committee which convened about two months ago to monitor the implementation of the law upholding divorce rulings."
The Rabbinical Courts Management expressed doubts over the scientific accuracy of the survey, saying that it was based on "the subjective feelings of the sample group's participants in regards to the rightness of the divorce's legal proceedings.
"Those who commissioned the survey ignored the basic need to inquire on the feelings of men taking part in the process, as well as the feelings of those whose case is discussed by the family court."
The rabbinical courts defined the survey as "completely groundless" and as a "biased poll whose conclusions were pre-commissioned," calling it a "cynical attempt to create a propaganda machine against the rabbinical courts. It undermines basic legal principles by vilifying the judges' work and judgment."
The Rabbinical Courts Management went on to blast the Rackman Center, wondering whether any ulterior motives were involved in the survey as it was published in English, "including an attempt to raise funds abroad to promote the agenda of those who commissioned the survey."