Poor Journalism: Wife’s Divorce Petition Dismissed before Abuse Incident

The following headline appeared on the Times of Israel website, attributed to JTA:

“Jerusalem rabbinical court says spousal abuse not grounds for divorce”

The article stated that the wife had applied to the Attorney General, because the Bet Din had rejected her claim for divorce, despite the fact that the husband had admitted assaulting her and had been imprisoned for 75 days.  There were quotes from lobbying organizations, alleging that the wife is an aguna, that the Bet Din paid lip service to the fight against family violence, and that the decision was reminiscent of the attitudes in surrounding countries towards wife beating and blaming the victim.

As often happens, the press report and the comments by the lobbyists reveal that none of them fully understood the material.

I have read the judgment of the Jerusalem Area Bet Din. The decision about which the complaint is made states as follows:

The Jerusalem Bet Din denied the wife’s petition for divorce on 4 July 2016 for lack of grounds, after two years of proceedings. On appeal to the Rabbinical High Court, the wife brought evidence that the husband had been found guilty, on his own admission, on 13 November 2016, of assaulting the wife on 19 August 2016 – six weeks after dismissal of the first petition. The appeal court saw fit to refer the matter back to the Jerusalem Bet Din.

The Jerusalem Bet Din decided that it was not possible to change the judgment dismissing the original petition on the basis of an event that occurred after the judgment was given. I am sure that almost all competent judges would agree that it is not possible to amend a claim after judgment has been given. Of course, the wife may file a new claim on the basis of the new evidence, or appeal the Jerusalem Bet Din decision, but the press report does not indicate if she has done so.

The comments of the Jerusalem Bet Din are also justified. The wife did not, it seems, allege violence in her original petition; there was evidence before the court which heard the criminal proceedings that the husband was suffering from psychological problems brought about by two years of divorce proceedings; the husband apologized for his “mistake”; and the Bet Din emphasized the seriousness with which it regards any violence.

However, it is not unusual for a court, in any jurisdiction, hearing divorce proceedings, to send the parties for counseling if there has been a single incident of violence and expression of regret, which may have been situational and not systematic and repeated violence, so the assumption that the Bet Din would have immediately granted the wife’s petition if she had brought proof of violence before the end of the proceedings is not necessarily correct.

I am not aware of any legal basis for the involvement of the Attorney-General in divorce proceedings. But the statement in the Times of Israel article, that the original petition was dismissed merely because of the husband’s objection, is unfounded.

The use of the term “Aguna” is also inaccurate. An Aguna is a woman, and an Agun is a man, whose spouse has disappeared, or refuses to give or receive a Get, a bill of divorce, despite a decision of the Bet Din that he or she must do so. In such a case, the court can impose severe sanctions. In a case reported last week, the Bet Din suspended a lawyer’s practicing certificate because he refused to give his wife a Get despite the order of the Bet Din. In the case under consideration, there was no such decision.

I have no interest in the case, nor do I know any of the parties. But the record should be set straight.