One third of Israeli women – 50% of haredi Israeli women – in the process of getting divorced is subject to threats and extortion from her husband, a new survey found. The extortion is based on withholding a woman’s get (religious bill of divorce), which can only be granted by her husband. If their husband refuses to do so, his wife is forbidden to marry or to have sexual relations with another man, and any children born to her by another man are branded mamzerim (bastards) under halakha (Orthodox Jewish law).
Half Of All Haredi Women Are Extorted In Divorce Process, Survey Finds
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
One third of Israeli women in the process of getting divorced is subject to threats and extortion from her husband, a new survey reported by Ynet has found.
The extortion is based on withholding a woman’s get (religious bill of divorce), which can only be granted by her husband. If their husband refuses to do so, his wife is forbidden to marry or to have sexual relations with another man, and any children born to her by another man are branded mamzerim (bastards) under halakha (Orthodox Jewish law). Israel’s haredi-controlled state-rabbinate keeps lists of these children, and it controls all marriages and divorces in the state for its Jewish citizens. And that means these children, their children, and their grandchildren are not allowed marry “pure” Jews for 10 generations.
Husbands commonly use get-withholding to force women to make extreme financial and child custody sacrifices.
As bad as the overall extortion statistics are, they are far worse in the haredi community, where 50% of women are extorted, the survey, which was conducted by the Geocartography Research Institute of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, found.
The survey reportedly has a potential sampling error of up to 5.5% and a 95% accuracy rate.
An estimated 77,000 women were extorted during their divorce process.
About 70% of divorced women believe the divorce agreement they signed will hurt them, and say they only signed it after being extorted.
In 40% of complicated, drawn out divorce cases, the final agreement was significantly biased in favor of the men.
The extortions often take place with the tacit – and even open – approval of haredi state rabbinic courts.
The survey also found that the more Orthodox and less educated the divorcing couple is, the higher the chance is that the woman will be extorted.
The survey’s results were presented at the Agunah Summit held last month in New York University. It was attended by Jewish leaders from around the world, including Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and former Israel Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish.
“[The survey shows] a blatant and serious violation of basic human rights in Israel," Profesor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, who heads the Rackman Center, said. She also pointed out that the frequency of get-withholding extortion has significantly increased over the past decade.
Haredim did not fully control the state rabbinate until 2003.
"The tool [used by these men who extort their wives] is the 'divorce given under duress [which is forbidden under halakha (Orthodox Jewish law),’ which I see as a complete distortion of halakha. 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 halakhic point of view – a divorce granted without real [honest] intention [and therefore invalid],” Halperin-Kaddari said.
Halperin-Kaddari cited past state rabbinical court rulings that forbade a divorcing wife from eating certain types of food and from wearing a certain piece of clothing as an example of the extremes these state rabbinic courts can go to please divorcing husbands.
"It's really the height of absurdity, and the court reneged on its decision in this case [anyway], yet it's important to see the extent this can reach, with food or personal nutrition becoming part of a [divorce] ruling for all intents and purposes,” she said.
But the most common use of extortion is to reduce child support, Halperin-Kaddari said.
"It goes as far as a case in which the husband demanded that child support for two children be reduced from NIS 1,100 (about $300) to only NIS 700 ($190), in exchange for a divorce."
"This is allegedly about religious autonomy, and so the civil court cannot interfere. 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,” Halperin-Kaddari said.
As for prenuptial agreements, Halperin-Kaddari is conflicted.
“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 [haredi-controlled state] rabbinical court will allow it.,” she noted.
The survey expansively defines every extorted woman as an agunah (a woman who is unable to marry, etc., because she does not have a bill of divorce under Orthodox law and is therefore “chained”).
The haredi-controlled state rabbinical courts consider a woman an agunah only if a state rabbinical court has ordered the husband to grant a divorce and the husband has refused to do so. Using that restrictive criteria, in 2012 only 80 women out of thousands of divorce cases handled by the rabbinical courts were agunahs.
The haredi-controlled state rabbinical court system responded to the survey by vilifying it.
“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 Rackman Center survey is based on] 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 about the feelings of men taking part in the [divorce] process, as well as the feelings of those whose [divorce] case is [also] discussed in the [secular] family court,” the state rabbinical courts rabbis reportedly said in a prepared statement.
The haredi rabbis also reportedly called the survey "completely groundless…a biased poll whose conclusions were pre-commissioned… 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 statement reportedly said.
The haredi rabbis also attacked the Rackman Center’s decision to publish the survey in English, wondering if it included “an attempt to raise funds abroad to promote the agenda of those who commissioned the survey.”
English, which is the international language of business and diplomacy much the way Aramaic, the primary language of the Talmud, was in the Middle East in ancient times.
The survey was presented to an international Jewish audience at an American university.
[Hat Tip: Rebbitzman.]