How Orthodox Divorce Puts Israel Women on Black List

Chained Women Barred From Remarrying

By Ben Sales

Published May 05, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — When she decided to split up from her husband, she went before an Orthodox rabbinical court and, after two perfunctory hearings and little discussion, received a religious writ of divorce.

It was only months later that the woman learned that the court had flagged her as an adulteress and placed her on a little-known list that, in accordance with biblical law, prohibited her from remarrying her ex-husband or her alleged paramour.

The allegation, which the woman declined to address directly, had never been raised during court proceedings. She only learned of it from a clause in the divorce papers she received in the mail.

“They accused me of adultery without any basis for it,” the woman, who asked that her name be withheld, told JTA. “I was in shock. I didn’t know where it came from.”

The woman, who has petitioned the Supreme Court to have her name removed from the list, is one of more than 5,000 Israelis included on a list of people restricted from marrying based on prohibitions in traditional Jewish law.

The list includes children of mothers with non-Orthodox conversions and those who fall into the Jewish legal category known as mamzer, defined as the offspring of certain forbidden sexual relationships, including children of married women who conceive extramaritally and their descendants.

Israel’s religious courts, which regulate the state’s Jewish marriages according to Orthodox legal standards, say the list is necessary to ensure marriages are kosher. But a state comptroller’s report from last year says the courts added names to the list illegally.

The court “exceeded the limits of its authority,” the report said, by adding people to the list without first giving them a hearing. The practice, according to the report, contravened Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which provides for a right to privacy and intimacy, as well as what the report called “natural laws of justice.”

“The state should not be in the business of blacklisting the children of mamzerim,” said Susan Weiss, the founder of the Center for Women’s Justice, a public interest law group that plans to petition the Supreme Court to eliminate the list. “All this bureaucracy that’s been developed and nurtured around the issue should be eliminated.”

The notion of a mamzer – a biblical term often translated as “bastard” – is a controversial one in Jewish law, which allows mamzers to marry only each other. In the past, leading rabbis made efforts to find legal loopholes that would avoid branding someone a mamzer and thereby restrict their marriage options. Enforcing those restrictions in modern Israel makes it exceedingly difficult for someone branded a mamzer by the courts to ever be legally married.

Maayan Arviv, a spokeswoman for the religious courts, told JTA in an email that names typically enter the list after rabbinical courts adjudicate personal status questions necessary to reach a verdict in a related case. A higher court then reviews the decision.

Even without a formal register, religious courts would decline to allow marriage between a mamzer and another Jew. But without the list, Arviv wrote, “the marriage registrar could not exercise its authority regarding eligibility to marry.”

Arviv said the courts understand that mamzer is a taboo in the Orthodox community and that the need for discretion is paramount. The list is not publicized, she said, because “the rabbinical courts aren’t interested in people knowing what happens in other people’s backyards or inner rooms.”

Arviv declined to comment on the specifics of the divorced woman’s case because it is under review by the Supreme Court.

Batya Kahana Dror, who advocates for Jewish women seeking divorce, said that in an earlier era, rabbis rarely classified people as mamzers because details of a person’s origins were typically conveyed by word of mouth and were harder to confirm.

“There have been mamzerim throughout history, but no one knew,” Dror said. “But now, the way we save information leads us to the present situation.”

Others say the whole concept of mamzer is damaging and rabbis should find ways to eliminate it.

“The issue won’t be solved until the community frees itself from the idea that we must exclude mamzerim,” said Rivkah Lubitch, a litigator in the rabbinical court system and a Center for Women’s Justice board member. “It’s hard to say I’m a religious person and support a society that hurts people like this.”

Beyond the headaches of her legal battle to clear her name, the divorced woman said that being on the list hasn’t made her life harder. The courts are prohibiting her from marrying only two people, neither of whom she wants to wed. But she is fighting the decision on principle.

“An adulteress in my eyes is not an honest person,” she said. “It’s one of the Ten Commandments. How dare they do that?”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.