The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

On Get-Refusal, Prenuptial Agreements and Marital Counseling



The modest offices of the Rabbinical Courts in Givat Shaul belie their national significance. Administrative head Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, however, doesn't disappoint as he engages in some of the major issues related to Jewish divorce cases.

In the easiest of cases, where the divorcing couple arrives at the rabbinical court with a mutually acceptable agreement, the get (writ of rabbinic-sanctioned divorce), can be arranged in two months or less, according to Ben-Dahan.

The rabbinical courts do not reopen these agreements, but neither do they rubber stamp them. Each clause is reviewed to determine that it is within the boundaries of Halacha. At the other end of the time frame are the cases whose resolution is more difficult. Yet Ben-Dahan says that only four percent of cases take more than one year to resolve.

A lawyer who was interviewed said that today there were more files being opened, but fewer divorces being issued. Ben-Dahan, however, cited figures showing the opposite to be true.

In 2006, the courts closed 81,000 files, although 77,000 new ones were opened, he said. (Not all of these cases involved people seeking a get; many concerned adjudicating support payments and related issues.)

Throughout the country there was a 3% increase in the number of divorces granted, while in the Jerusalem area, that figure topped 10% from the previous year. No statistics are kept on whether the divorcing couples are secular, national religious or haredi, yet Ben-Dahan says he has a strong sense that there was a rise in the rate of divorce within the Torah-observant community.

He exhibits respect for marital counseling, for instance, when discussing the case of a woman who leaves the marital home. In Jewish law she could be considered a moredet (rebellious wife). The consequences of such a designation, he says, are, at worst, that she would lose her alimony rights, but retain child support and an equal division of property .

"It depends on whether or not she had sufficient grounds," he says.

For example, he says, if she or the children were beaten or threatened with a weapon.

Verbal abuse would also be sufficient ground for divorce, he adds.

Examples of "insufficient grounds" are if the wife finds someone she likes better, or she cannot articulate a reason.

How is incompatibility considered? "It depends if they went for therapy or not, on many factors," Ben-Dahan says.

In the 2004 movie Mekudeshet ('Sentenced to Marriage,' directed by Anat Zuria), one of the three women seeking a divorce claims to have been waiting for five years. Another says that she and her child fled home after they were seriously threatened. Nevertheless, the rabbinic judges are presented as dismissing her claims, and they hold it against her that she left home.

Ben-Dahan has many problems with this film. Most significantly, he says, is its single point of view, and its absence of a serious presentation of the husband's side in any of the cases.

"They should have said from the beginning that it is one-sided and that they are showing everything in a negative light."

Also, he says, several facts were misrepresented in the film. "After I saw the film, I checked the records of the woman who said she's been waiting for five years for a get. We discovered that for three-and-a-half years her husband wanted to issue a divorce, but she refused to accept it."

To be valid, a get must be ordered by the divorcing husband who gives it to his wife, when she agrees to accept it.

He continues: "Then she turns around and for the next year-and-a-half she said she wanted it, and her husband's attitude was, 'I ran after her, when I wanted to give it, now let her run after me.' But this isn't shown in the film!"

Similarly he says that the rabbinical court judges are heard selectively, never seen and misrepresented. "I won't say that our dayanim [judges] are perfect," Ben-Dahan says, "but I don't believe there is such a case as a wife being beaten and then sent back home. The judges are not so evil."

And if there were such a case, the woman could appeal to the rabbinical High Court of Appeals, he adds.

When asked about cases where a divorce agreement had been reached, and suddenly the divorcing husband upped the ante, just as the get was to be administered, Ben-Dahan said it could be that at the last moment the husband - or the wife - suddenly remembered an outstanding debt.

"If it was a woman who suddenly remembered that her husband owed her some money, wouldn't you let her claim it? Shouldn't the judges hear any outstanding claims?"

When told that "forgotten loans" were not the basis of such cases where additional sums were requested, Ben-Dahan offers the possibility that "Maybe the husband's claim was justified," and emphasizes that it could have been appealed.

But is it likely that a woman who waited so long for a get, will at the last minute walk away from the court in order to appeal the procedure? Or is she more likely to swallow the demand so that she can finally obtain the get?

Ben-Dahan declares, "If someone says this happened to her, she should come see me!"

Ben-Dahan refers to a recent article in The Jerusalem Post ("Rabbinate, women's rights groups argue after release of agunot data," June 27), which cites rabbinical court data that there were only 180 women who could not obtain a divorce at the end of 2006 because they were refused a get by their husbands. The same data revealed that 190 women were intransigent and refused to accept a get.

The consequences, however, are not as equal as these numbers might suggest. A woman entering a new relationship without a get is, according to the Torah, guilty of adultery, and any children that result are considered mamzerim, who are excluded from marrying within the normative community.

The definitions of "get-refusal" or "intransigent" as the basis for the low figures cited by the rabbinate are contested, since the rabbinical court tallies only cases where the court decided that the couple should divorce. The court does not consider those individuals who only overcame a recalcitrant spouse by paying a high price, those who despaired of a get and whose cases are no longer active, nor those for whom the court has yet to rule despite the passage of long years.

When asked about prenuptial agreements as a solution for difficulties associated with get-refusal, Ben-Dahan says that "on principle" he approves, and that "many dayanim and rabbanim accept them - if they are according to Halacha."

There are many kinds of agreements, he explains, and not all meet the requirements, though he would not specify which do not. He did, however, designate one in particular that is halachically valid: the "prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal," developed by rabbinical court advocate Rachel Levmore, Rabbi Eliashiv Knohl and Rabbi David Ben-Zazzon, in consultation with many experts in the field.

This agreement is known as Heskem Lekavod Hadadi, or the Agreement for Mutual Respect and can be found at www.youngisraelrabbis.org.il

Copyright 2007 The Jerusalem Post http://www.jpost.com


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