An American businessman has been punished in Israel following his son’s continuing refusal to divorce.
The man is in his early sixties and runs a successful real estate company. He lives in New York, where he is a member of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. On a visit to Israel with his wife, he was summoned before the Rabbinical Court to answer for the fact that his son had refused to grant his wife a religious divorce for almost a decade. The document needed to make a divorce official is called a get.
According to court documents, the man’s daughter-in-law suffered a stroke during a visit to Israel in 2005. She was left disabled and decided to remain in the country with her children and become an Israeli citizen. Meanwhile her husband returned to New York. Not only did he refuse to grant a get, he also ignored a court ruling which said he should pay her maintenance.
The Rabbinical Court cannot force anyone to divorce, as they must all be consensual. However, following the son’s refusal to follow their order regarding maintenance, they ruled that the businessman had aided and abetted his son’s contempt of court. He was therefore ordered to surrender his and his wife’s passports and was later sentenced to 30 days in an Israeli prison.
The man’s legal team argued that justice was based on the idea that “a person carries his own sins and is not punished for the sins of others” and insisted he had no control over his son’s actions or decisions. They also claimed that the father and his son were estranged so he had been unable to force the husband to relent.
However, New York-based non-profit group the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) was not convinced. The ORA, which helps Jewish women who have been refused a divorce, had followed this case. They alleged that the husband now had a new girlfriend and spent his time either at his home in Brooklyn or a luxury apartment in Miami. Both of those properties are owned by his parents, the ORA asserted. This seems to suggest that “it is the parents who are directly supporting, enabling, aiding and abetting the husband’s recalcitrance” said ORA executive director Rabbi Jeremy Stern.
Despite support from a large section of its population, there are no civil marriages in Israel. As a result, a divorce can only occur if the husband gives permission. Wives who are refused are referred to as agunah, or “chained” women, and they cannot remarry while this is the case. However, the Rabbinical Court has tried to discourage husbands from refusing divorces by punishing those who do.