Israel’s rabbinical establishment has responded to a worrying survey pointing to the widespread extortion by husbands whose wives want divorces. And instead of moving to stop the phenomenon, it has simply attacked the survey — conducted by one of Israel’s largest polling firms commissioned by a major university.
For Israel’s Jewish population, all marriage-related matters run through the rabbinate. This means that if a couple wants to get divorced, they must obtain a religious divorce certificate, which the husband is able to withhold leaving the wife virtually powerless to secure a divorce. The husband’s refusal can turn the wife in to an agunah, often translated as a chained woman.
One in three women in the process of getting a divorce experiences financial extortion by their husbands, according to a survey by the Geocartography research institute for the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University.
While this figure is hard-hitting, its full significance may not be instantly clear. This isn’t one in three divorce cases initiated by women where men try to extort, but one in three of all divorce cases.
It’s unknown exactly what proportion of divorces are initiated by women and what proportion by men. However, once you factor in that a significant number are initiated by men, you are looking at a situation where extortion is the norm, or on the verges of being the norm. In short, the power to generate the get is widely viewed as a financial asset by husbands whose wife wants a divorce.
The Rabbinical Courts Management has now responded to the survey, dismissing it as based on “the subjective feelings of the sample group’s participants in regards to the rightness of the divorce’s legal proceedings.” But the survey wasn’t about how divorcee women feel but rather about what they were expected to pay — a pretty objective indicator.
To the courts’ spokesperson the survey was a “cynical attempt to create a propaganda machine against the rabbinical courts.” Yet one wonders why the courts must feel so threatened by a survey on the behavior of the male public. These statistics only reflect badly on the rabbinical courts if they want them to. If the rabbis joined forces with female activists to halt the problem, in a couple of years time when the survey is repeated and finds a sharp decline in extortion, they would be the heroes.