Tomorrow morning, January 11, at 10:30 a.m., there will be a protest at Agranat Square next to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem to convince the Supreme Court to prevent a grievous miscarriage of justice and Halacha.
The Supreme Court will debate a petition submitted by Batya Kahana-Dror, director of Mavoi Satum (an organization that provides legal support to women refused a divorce), to reject the recent move by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef toward revoking a get (Jewish divorce) given to a woman two-and-a-half years ago. Chochmat Nashim, the organization I co-founded, supports this protest, and hopes you will join us.
In Tzfat, a man had the tragic misfortune of a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma from which, doctors agree, he is unlikely to ever wake up. After seven years with no change to his condition, the rabbinical court in Tzfat agreed to give his wife a divorce on the man’s behalf. A halachic provision permits the the court to step in on behalf of a husband to take care of what he in fact would want, given the very circumstances that don’t permit him to fulfill his marital responsibilities. It’s unusual for a court to make use of this provision, and not without controversy, but it has also been on the books for a millennia — and was designed for this kind of use.
The Tzfat Beit Din weighed the merits of the woman’s need against the traditional approach that avoids this kind of court-executed divorce. They consulted with the rabbis of this generation, to mixed response (Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef wrote against the divorce, Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, a leading judge in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) court said that allowing the divorce was “very correct” — until subsequent reports suggest he was pressured to recant).
The Tzfat court had jurisdiction and made the decision. The court granted the divorce in March 2014.
Except that it wasn’t.
After the decision was made public in May 2014, a man living in Bnei Brak and not connected to the couple in any way, submitted an appeal in June to the High Rabbinical Court against the divorce. The Rabbinate rejected the appeal, explaining that one can only appeal to the court where the get was given. The man did so and the Tzfat court rejected his petition on the grounds that he had no standing.
The man then re-appealed to the High Rabbinical Court, where it sat for two years, until last November when Rav Yosef announced that he would convene the entire court to discuss it — a full two-and-a-half years since the Tzfat Beit Din granted the woman’s divorce.
Asking the rabbinical court to reverse a decision is really only the province of the interested parties — for example, if the man were to come out of his coma, he might have a legitimate basis for filing an appeal. Or if the Tzfat court itself were to have stumbled upon new information — it might have the basis for reopening its own decision.
However, this appeal was filed by a disinterested party — someone with no connection to the comatose man, the divorced woman, or even the Tzfat Beit Din. Moreover, his petition was rejected immediately by the Tzfat Beit Din for exactly this reason — his lack of standing in the case.
(Indeed, there are areas in Halacha where a disinterested person can get involved. Most notably, the case of “rodef,” where Halacha goes so far as to permit one to kill another party for the sake of saving the life of a third party. Also — on the other end of the life-or-death spectrum — when one accepts a Shabbat gift on behalf of a third party. Both of these examples entail a clear benefit to the third party. There is no reason, however, to think that a disinterested person’s dislike of a court-mandated divorce should have any impact whatsoever.)
All logic and jurisprudence suggests the appeal should have been thrown out by the High Rabbinical Court.
Instead, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef is convening nearly the entire Jerusalem Rabbinate to hear the appeal.
Understand: In the event that the Beit Din revokes this divorce, then the woman — whose halachic and legal status had been firmly and presumably irrevocably (!) changed through the Tzfat Beit Din’s divorce — would revert to being married to a man in a coma. If she had remarried, she would be committing adultery. If she’d had children with the new husband, they’d be mamzerim!
Calling into question a divorce that has long been in effect has serious, and potentially devastating, ramifications for real people.
Beyond the fate of this one woman. Rabbi Yosef’s actions are dangerous in the extreme for halachic Judaism as a whole.
- They undermine the authority of the Beit Din itself.
Every divorce is granted under the auspices of a rabbinic court. If another rabbinic court can come along and revoke the first court’s divorces (or declare them null and void), then no Beit Din may be considered reliable when it comes to divorce, and its status-changing implications…
Yes, the law is on the books that one court can undo the edicts of a previous court — but only under certain conditions of established greatness, and only when it comes to legislative acts, which can’t be enacted in this day and age with no Sandhedrin. YES, halachic disputes happen all the time. They are built into the system. But when a beit din’s decision on status takes effect, it’s considered sacrosanct.
- They undermine the “forever” status of divorce.
Revoking a get sets a very dangerous precedent. If an unrelated court can come along and revoke (or declare null and void) one divorce, even given its unusual circumstances, what is to protect any divorce from the same? Every presumed divorcee should hesitate before marrying again, lest she risk subsequent accusations of adultery. Indeed, every post-divorce marriage risks being called into question.
From a human perspective, this is terribly difficult. How can any divorced person move on with his or her life if the divorce can be questioned? The potential ramifications of this are endless and chaotic.
- The human dimension of this specific case.
This woman was married for seven years to a man she knew would not regain consciousness. She’s only 34-years-old. Chaining her to someone whose body functions only by virtue of machines for the rest of his life when there is a legitimate halachic mechanism to release her that was approved by the Tzfat Beit Din is cruel.
In truth, the fact that Rabbi Yosef and many others would convene with the question of revoking this get calls into question our ability to rely on our rabbis to protect our widows, our orphans, our converts, and even Halacha — which allows for this kind of divorce.
Please join us Wednesday morning to add your voice in support of justice and Halacha and against this very dangerous move.