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10 years ‘chained’: Oshrat’s freedom might depend on a pedophile

When the witness to your wedding breaks Jewish law, he's not a valid witness, and your wedding didn't count. It shouldn't take the Supreme Court to confirm that, but it just might
Courtesy of Mavoi Satum

Discovering that one of the witnesses at her marriage is a convicted pedophile seemed like the breakthrough Oshrat needed to be free of her unwanted marriage. Now, at a critical juncture for Oshrat’s case, the Beit Din will decide whether to re-evaluate her argument that the marriage she has been fighting to leave for 10 years was void the entire time. 

Oshrat has been trying to receive a divorce from her husband since 2010. Throughout her case, the Beit Din, or rabbinical court, has recognized that Oshrat’s husband ought to have given her a divorce and has been applying sanctions to him to encourage him to do so. Unfortunately, the sanctions have been unsuccessful because her husband fled to the United States and has continued to refuse to grant a divorce. 

In 2013, Oshrat discovered that one of the witnesses at her wedding was a convicted pedophile who had been jailed for assaulting a child at a school where he worked. The fact that one of the witnesses at the marriage is a pedophile has a significant impact on the status of the marriage, as Jewish law requires that witnesses to a marriage be fully observant of Jewish law. 

In subsequent hearings before the Beit Din, Oshrat and her legal team from Mavoi Satum, an organization providing legal representation and emotional support to women who are refused a divorce, argued that a pedophile is obviously not fully observant of Jewish law and cannot be a valid witness. If one of the witnesses was not valid, Oshrat’s marriage would be viewed as also never having been valid, and she would have no need to obtain a divorce at all.

Determining whether a witness is invalid is largely up to the discretion of the judges of the Beit Din, as identifying the situations in which a witness is invalid requires interpretation. Judges must extrapolate when applying the law to contemporary circumstances, and some judges are more creative and expansive than others when doing so. 

After four years of court hearings, the local Beit Din ruled that the pedophile in Oshrat’s case is a valid witness but did not explain its reasoning, even though it is required to do so. The appellate Beit Din ruled similarly. The appellate Beit Din favored the witness’s account of his crimes over the findings of the court that convicted him, ultimately ruling that he was a valid witness because his specific violations were not severe and he had since repented. 

On the grounds that they did not receive due process, Oshrat and her team filed an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, requesting a new hearing for the case. The Supreme Court has granted the Beit Din two weeks to decide whether to give the case a new hearing, before itself ruling how to proceed with the appeal. Those two weeks will end on September 6. 

Oshrat and her team are eagerly awaiting the Beit Din’s decision about whether to reconsider the case, and are confident that if it agrees to do so, the respected, knowledgeable, and socially minded judges will find a way to free Oshrat.

About the Author
Ali is a summer intern for Mavoi Satum, a Jerusalem based nonprofit providing legal representation and psychological support to agunot.
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