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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Olmert sells his soul

for another day at the helm, once again. This time, at the cost of women, leaving democracy and religion at loggerheads, instead of trying to resolve between them.

For the past few years, ICAR (The International Coalition for Agunah Rights, made up of over 25 organizations) has been working to change the Marital Property (Balancing of Resources) Law of 1974. Women, and other sane people, have been trying to change this law from its inception. The law links the division of marital property to the get.

§ 5 of the Law states (my paraphrase): “The court will balance the resources of a marriage (read: divide up the marital property) at the time of the dissolution of the marriage (read: the get) .” This means that Israeli women can be “held up” both for the get, as well as for marital property, thus facilitating extortion in exchange for the get-- a sad but well known phenomenon. ICAR has proposed an amendment to the law that would allow for the division of marital property prior to the get: when the parties are living apart, for example.

(Almost) everyone agrees that this is a good idea-- Why facilitate extortion? Everyone, except for Shas. They too think that the suggested amendment to the law would cut down, if not eliminate, extortion. But Shas thinks -- hold on to your hats -- that the Bet Din needs tools of extortion in order to facilitate the get. So the existing law is good, reasons Shas, because it facilitates the extortion that is essential to divorce resolution!!! (So help me, it’s true).

ICAR, with the hard help of Robyn Shames (ICAR’s Executive Director), Batsheva Sherman-Shani (the head of ICAR’s legal department) and Marc Luria (a volunteer lobbyist-businessman) (among others) indeed succeeded in getting a majority of voting Knesset members to agree that Shas’ claim is nonsense. And they managed to get the proposed amendment passed through 2 readings. Usually the 3rd reading is a mere formality, and the bill gets passed. Unless the minority opposed to the bill somehow manages to call for a “Vote of Non-Confidence in the Government” that, when supported by the Prime Minister( !?) gets the vote on the bill pushed off for a week. Shas and Olmert (pictured) made a secret deal -- in direct opposition to the majority of the Knesset members, and in direct opposition to the position taken by Olmert’s Kadimah party—that Olmert would agree to push off the vote for a week. And a week, in this particular instance, means indefinitely. The Knesset goes on recess next week; and who knows what the Government is going to look like when it gets back to work. MK Menahem BenSasson, the head of the Law and Constitution Committee, is furious. He worked hard to get this passed. So did we all.

But Olmert, once again, has proved that no price is too dear for another day at the helm of the Government. And Shas, once again, has proved that no price is too dear to protect its constituents at the helm of the rabbinic courts.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Knock Out: Man Ordered to Pay 550,000 NIS in Damages for Refusing to Give a Get

July 21, 2008: Judge Benzion Greenberger of the Jerusalem Family Court awarded damages in the amount of 550,000 NIS against a man who refused to give his wife a get, without such award being contingent upon a rabbinic court ruling of any sort. This decision is the first of its kind. Prior to this decision, the family court had held that damages for get refusal were only payable subsequent to a rabbinic court order that a husband must give his wife a get (Judge HaCohen, 2004. Read his decision, in English). Such rabbinic court "orders" are rare and hard to come by.

This new decision celebrates and protects the autonomy and dignity of Jewish women. It is, in my opinion, an unequivocal statement that Israeli family courts will award damages for the harm that results when a man misuses the prerogatives given to him under religious law -- even when that law is the official law of the State of Israel. CWJ represented the woman.

Read Judge Greenberger's 2008 decision in Hebrew. English translation to follow.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

March 11, 2008: Supreme Rabbinic Court Slams Tort Cases

This case was decided a while ago, but I thought it was important to fill you in about it:

On March 11th, 2008, the Supreme Rabbinic Court issued a 26 page decision (all obiter dictum, the wife got a valid get after she sued for damages !!!!) in which it held that filing a tort claim against recalcitrant husbands invalidates the future, desired, and not yet given get. The bet din thinks women have to choose-- damages or get. They can't have both! Here is a choice excerpt from the bet din decision:

"All petitions filed outside the rabbinic court – like petitions to civil courts for damages — that relate to get refusal, whose practical consequence is to accelerate the delivery of the get, is an interference with the laws of the Torah regarding divorce, and effectively precludes the possibility of the execution of a [kosher] get

Attorneys who deal in family law should be advised to weigh carefully their recommendations to clients to file damage claims in the family court for get-refusal. Such recommendations are tantamount to malpractice, and I doubt that attorneys could avoid such claims [of malpractice], even it if they were to sign their clients on waivers to that affect. It can be assumed that clients are not aware, and cannot possibly foresee, what serious consequences and delays can occur in the delivery of the get , even after the husband has agreed to give the get, if the husband's agreement [to give the get] was given subsequent to a petition for damages for get-refusal (J. Algrabli)."

CWJ's informal response:

1- Women do not have a choice about getting a get . Only men have that choice. Women are totally dependent on their husbands for a get, and can wait a lifetime till they are granted one. A lifetime is too long.

2- If a man intentionally abuses his religious right to withhold a get from his wife, he causes her a civil wrong. He is intentionally inflicting emotional distress. He is infringing on his wife's life, liberties, rights, and freedoms. That's why wives have the right to sue recalcitrant husbands for damages.

3- We think a woman is entitled to both a get and to damages if her husband does not give her a get within a reasonable time. 2 years is more than enough waiting time!!!.

4- CWJ will continue to file tort cases for our clients. Before the get and after the get. One has nothing to do with the other. If a client comes to our office who has not gotten a get although she is begging for one for years (our average case is 8 years), or if she has received a get only after many years of loneliness and isolation, we would be negligent if we did not file a tort case for her. She has been harmed and should be compensated for that harm..

5- Notwithstanding the above case and its broad -sweeping generalization, most rabbinic courts in Israel have been very constructive and practical in response to our specific tort cases and have found ways to execute halakhically valid gitten to our clients.We are sure they will continue to respond to the individual cases that come before them. As they did in the above case.

Cause of Action against Family of Get Recalcitrant Husband

Recently we received an important interim decision in one of our tort cases.

A few months ago, we at the Center for Women's Justice sued a mother, 2 brothers, and a sister, as well as a husband, for damages because of get refusal. The husband has gone "underground" for the past 3 1/2 years and his family, in addition to "helping" the husband's case in various ways, refuses to tell us where the husband is. The family claims that they do not know. We don't believe them.

On July 3, 2008, the Hon. Nili Maymon of the Jerusalem Family Court (pictured) confirmed that Israel tort law allows for a cause of action against the family for aiding and abetting get refusal even if there is no formal rabbinic court "order" against the husband to deliver a get. Read her decision (in Hebrew) (in English).

On July 8, 2008, we had a hearing on the merits. Will keep you informed.