Haredi father who blocked son’s divorce must serve prison sentence in Israel

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — A haredi man who urged his son to withhold a divorce from his wife must serve time in prison, after he lost his appeal to Israel’s highest rabbinical court.

The High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem on Monday reaffirmed the father’s 30-day prison sentence, which is precedent-setting in that it punishes a third party to a divorce dispute, the news site NRG reported.

The father, whose name was not published, was the driving force behind his son’s refusal for years to grant his disabled wife a divorce, according to an independent investigation of the case carried out by the Regional Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv before it sentenced the father in March.

In Israel, marital issues are under the jurisdiction of religious tribunals that act as family courts.

In Orthodox Judaism, a marriage cannot be undone unless the man consents to a “get” — the Hebrew word for divorce. Rabbinical courts cannot force a man to give his wife a get but they can impose harsh punishments and public shaming on any party the judges determine are unjustly withholding a get and turning women into what is known in Judaism as agunot, or “chained” women.

Agunot are unable to remarry under halachah, or Jewish law, and any children she might have with a new husband are considered illegitimate.

Last month, the High Rabbinical Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for refusing his wife a get.

The case reviewed Monday in Jerusalem involved a haredi couple who married 19 years ago and who lived in the United States with their two children. The wife was rendered disabled a decade ago after suffering a severe stroke when she was in Israel for a visit with her husband and children. The husband returned to the United States; his wife remained in Israel with their children. He has consistently refused her requests to be divorced, allegedly because of his father’s objection.

An injunction preventing the father from leaving Israel was issued earlier this year, when the father was in that country on a family visit. He is currently in Israel and the injunction will remain in force pending a final decision on his case, according to the news site Walla.

The court also ordered the father to pay $23,600, half of which will go to the chained wife.

The three judges, all men, also ruled that the father had tricked Shlomo Amar, a chief rabbi of Jerusalem and former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, into issuing statements in March that appeared to be against punishing the father.

“It turns out that there had been a deliberate act of deception by those acting on behalf of the defendant, who withheld information from the honorable Rabbi Amar and acted disingenuously to present his words as though they constituted a Halakhic decree pertaining to this case,” the judges wrote..

Amar’s office declined to comment on the issue, NRG reported.

The father facing prison has appealed to Israel’s High Court, the highest legal authority in the country, which is scheduled to review the case this month.