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Rabbinic Court Refuses to Consider Domestic Violence as Divorce Grounds

(JTA) – An Israeli woman who is seeking unsuccessfully to divorce her violent husband appealed to Israel’s attorney general to overturn a Rabbinic court’s denial of her request.

The woman’s lawyers made the unusual appeal Thursday, following the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court’s denial last week of her divorce motion on grounds of documented domestic violence, which the husband confessed to perpetrating, Mavoi Satum, a Jewish Orthodox organization working for so-called chained women said in a statement Thursday.

In Israel, religious tribunals function as family courts. According to Orthodox Jewish law, divorce is only possible if the husband consents to it. Rabbinical judges in most cases cannot force husbands to give their wives a divorce, though they can impose punishments – including imprisonment and dispossession – on those deemed to be abusing their wives but not granting them a divorce. Such women are called agunot in Hebrew, meaning chained.

In the case involving the violent husband, the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court last week denied the woman’s request despite the fact that the husband had been convicted and imprisoned for 75 days for assaulting his wife last year. He admitted to doing so before the rabbinical court and expressed regret for his actions. The assault took place after the woman filed before the rabbinical court for divorce for the first time – an unsuccessful bid that the court rejected because the husband objected to it.

The woman filed again for divorce citing the assault conviction but the court last week dismissed her request, ascribing the violence to the woman’s desire to divorce her husband rather than any inherent will on his part to harm her, Mavoi Satum said.

Denouncing any violence against women, the judges said this applied “especially to such serious violence as described in the charge sheet.” However, “there is also no doubt that the husband’s outburst followed on the difficult conditions he is in as a result of the divorce suit his wife filed against him; and there is no doubt that if the wife accepted the husband’s request to attempt to return normal life together, this occurrence would not have happened,” the ruling by the three-judge panel read.

Mavoi Satum accused the court of “paying lip service” to the fight against domestic violence. The ruling last week “reminds us of attitudes towards wife beating in Israel’s neighboring countries,” Hiddush, a civil rights watchdog group critical of the Israeli Chief  Rabbinate, wrote in a statement about the case Friday, calling the ruling a instance of “blaming the victim, which is so repulsive though common in rape cases.”

Each year, approximately 18,000 women complain to police about domestic abuse and about a dozen women are murdered in Israel by their spouses. Half of women murdered belong to Israel’s Arab minority, which comprises approximately 20 percent of the population, according to the WIZO women’s rights group.

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