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Law to Help ‘Agunot’ Passes First Reading in Knesset

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The Israeli Knesset building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – A new bill that would allow Israel’s rabbinical courts to extend sanctions to non-Israeli Jewish men who refuse to grant divorces, also called gets in Hebrew, to their wives passed its first reading in the Knesset on Monday.

At present, Israeli courts are not able to adjudicate cases in which women are not citizens or residents of the country.

The legislation targets the ongoing problem of agunot, Jewish women denied religious divorces by their husbands. Traditional Jewish law permits men to marry an additional wife in some circumstances, but Jewish women are not able to remarry or engage in intimate relationships without a divorce, effectively leaving them “chained” to their husbands.

The new law would necessitate that the husband be physically present in Israel. It would also require proof that the wife had attempted to obtain civil and Jewish divorce in their country of origin.

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If the husband continues to refuse to give a divorce, the rabbinical court could impose a variety of sanctions against him, as it currently does to Israeli citizens, including fines, frozen assets and short-term imprisonment.

The bill’s proponent, Yesh Atid Party’s MK Aliza Lavie, noted that a slew of cases from the former Soviet Union involve wealthy married men who remarry, but won’t divorce their first wives for financial reasons.

She noted that the haredi parties have not voiced opposition to the law, but that the Foreign Ministry opposed it due to concerns that Israel’s expansion of rabbinical-court authority could lead to a backlash in foreign family courts, which could then begin to extend their jurisdiction to Israelis visiting their countries.

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