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Israeli Bill Would Punish Foreign Jews Who Refuse To Divorce Their Wives

(JTA) — The Knesset passed in a first reading draft legislation that would expose to legal action in Israel Jewish non-citizens who refuse to grant their wives a divorce.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, on Wednesday celebrated as “extremely significant” the Knesset’s passing last week in a first reading of an amendment to the law on the rabbinical courts. If it passes a third reading, the bill would extend the courts’ jurisdiction to any Jew who is found to be withholding unjustly his consent to a divorce.

Led by the government and opposition lawmakers, the legislation could lead to the fining and imprisonment of Jewish tourists while in Israel and is part of an escalation in judiciary practices against recalcitrant husbands, which is occurring amid growing criticism over gender discrimination in Orthodox Judaism.

In Orthodox Judaism, a marriage cannot be undone unless the man consents to a “get” — the Hebrew word for divorce. Rabbinical courts, which in Israel finction as family courts, cannot force a man to give his wife a get but they can impose harsh punishments, including jail time, on any party the judges determine are unjustly withholding a get and turning women into what is known in Judaism as agunot, or “chained” women.

But these powers in rabbinical courts run by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate are currently limited to Israeli citizens, said Goldschmidt. “The thought behind extending the jurisdiction to non-Israelis is that in today’s world, Jews, and especially observant ones, are tied to Israel. If they want to avoid legal trouble there, they will unchain their wives,” Goldschmidt, who has lobbied for the new legislation, told JTA.

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