For the first time in history, an Israeli rabbinical court has sentenced a man to prison because his son will not grant his wife a divorce.
The court ordered that a Jewish-American tycoon be sent to jail for 30 days in jail after his son refused to give his wife a get. According to Jewish religious law, a husband must give his wife a document known as a get in order for the couple to be divorced. A woman whose husband refuses to do so is called an aguna [plural agunot, literally "chained woman"].
The ruling came after it was found that the father has discouraged his son from granting his wife a get for the past ten years. The head of the Tel Aviv rabbinical courts, Rabbi Shlomo Shatsman, stated that "The complainant's extended and brutal divorce case is one of the hardest agunot cases the rabbinical court system has had to deal with."
The court heard the story of a haredi couple who married 19 years ago and lived in the US, where their two children were born. About 10 years ago, the family visited Israel. During their trip, the wife suffered a severe stroke. She was left disabled and remains confined to a wheelchair.
After the stroke, the husband abandoned his wife and children in Israel and returned to the US. Since then, he has refused to grant her a divorce. He has ignored the Tel Aviv rabbinical court's ruling that he must grant her a get, and did not even bother to file an appeal.
The court tried to uncover the husband's perplexing motives. The court's aguna branch carried out a secret investigation in Israel and the US, and found that his father, a rich businessman known for his philanthropy in the haredi sector, is behind the refusal. When the husband's parents visited Israel, the court summoned them to testify and even issued a restraining order preventing them from leaving the country until they do so. This alone was an unprecedented decision. The parents, however, had rabbis and public figures apply strong pressure to the court in an attempt to obstruct justice.
After a long series of discussions and investigations, the Tel Aviv rabbinical court published its decision to send the father to jail yesterday (Sunday).
The director of the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Shimon Yaakov, says, "The court's decision — like other recent decisions — expresses the deep and unequivocal obligation of the rabbinical courts to help agunot and prevent refusals to divorce. Once the court has given its ruling, it must be obeyed as it is written. The court appropriately used the halachic and legal means at its disposal in order to expose the support that the recalcitrant husband's parents — illegally — give him, and so it took the appropriate action against the accomplices.
"This is an important message for all the oppressed: Don't give up. The court has not finished its work with the signing of the decision. The court works tirelessly to implement its ruling and to find a true solution to recalcitrant husbands."