Divorce-Israeli style

I had thought that on domestic matters involving its Jewish population, and especially when it came to issues involving women, the state of Israel was quite enlightened and egalitarian, except of course for the ultra-Orthodox segments of the populations who are hopelessly sexist.

But apparently when it comes to the issue of divorce, all Jewish people in Israel, whether Orthodox or religious or not, suffer from a bizarre religion-controlled system that makes it possible for one party, usually the man, to victimize the other. The LA Times had a story on it recently, using as an example the case of Tamar Tessler who has not been able to get a divorce for 36 years.

Tessler is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israeli women caught in legal and social limbo because of a law that leaves matters of divorce for all Jewish citizens in the hands of a government-funded religious court.

The court, consisting of a panel of rabbis, bases its decisions on the customs of Orthodox Judaism. The rulings apply to all Jewish Israelis, whether they are Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, observant or secular. And their authority even extends to those who married abroad in civil ceremonies that were registered in Israel.

Under the court’s interpretation of Jewish religious law, a husband’s, or wife’s, consent is necessary to end a marriage. As has been the case for centuries, a Jewish divorce is not final in Israel until men deliver handwritten divorce decrees into the cupped hands of the women, who then must hold the paper aloft. A rabbi tears the document, called a get, into pieces, which are then filed for record-keeping.

The rabbis can order a reluctant spouse, usually a man, to grant the divorce, and Israel’s parliament is considering a bill to expand the court’s power to apply pressure. But if a spouse refuses to undertake the religious rite, the court says, it doesn’t have the power to dissolve the marriage.

Rabbis have upheld the need for consent even in cases where a man has abused his wife, disappeared, lied about his sexuality or molested their children.

Exploiting what amounts to veto power over a divorce, some men demand financial payoffs from the court. Others pressure wives to pay them, give up their homes, forgo child support or waive custody rights.

I am shocked that a country that is otherwise so modern has allowed this state of affairs to continue. This is what happens when you allow religion to impose its bizarre beliefs into secular affairs.


  1. Erp says

    The legal ramifications hit women harder than men. The man could get a divorce outside the country and remarry (I’m not sure the marriage would be recognized inside Israel) but the children of the second marriage would be considered legitimate. A woman could also get a divorce and remarry outside the country but without the religious divorce the children of the second marriage would be considered ‘mamzer’ and have heavy restrictions in Israel (or under Jewish law) on who they are permitted to marry (pretty much only other mamzer or converts).

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