I had to create a special unit to deal with these missing men because there was a big difference if they were found in Israel or in other countries. In Israel it was easy to bring the men to bet bin, but in other parts of the world I had to send special rabbis to seek them out and then convince them to give a get.
What did you do to help women whose husbands refuse to give a get, or as you call it, mesoravot get?
I revolutionized the system in Israel. In the past if the bet din ordered the husband to give a get, there was no way to enforce it. I drafted a law that gave the rabbinic court the power to sanction recalcitrant husbands until they obey their orders to grant a get. I worked very hard to get this bill passed in the Knesset. I lobbied all the MPs and eventually even convinced the head of the leftist Meretz party to vote for it. When it became law it made a very big difference to the women chained to a dead marriage.
What are some of the sanctions?
They range from large monetary payments to the wife until a get is granted to revocation of the husband’s drivers license and professional license to seizing a passport to prevent travel out of the country to putting a hold on their bank accounts.
In one celebrated case, a doctor in one of our hospitals refused to give his wife a get. Our office had his medical license suspended and the hospital suspended him. A get was given very quickly.
The sanctions can go as far as jailing the recalcitrant husband. And once in jail, privileges such as visits and canteen are removed as time passes, and finally the man can find himself in solitary confinement. My feeling is that his refusal to give a get takes away the wife’s freedom so it is only fitting that we take away his freedom as well.
I created a special bet din to deal with the most difficult mesoravot get cases, and this special bet din is the one that has gotten tremendous results. I checked each case and turned the really hard ones over to this special court. In fact, over the years if an Israeli citizen living abroad came to Israel for a yahrzeit or a family simcha or some other event, and he was on the list of those who were refusing to give their wives a get, we immediately notified the police and he was kept in custody until a get was granted. Unfortunately when I left my position this special bet din was discontinued.
I was also instrumental in the hiring of women toanot – rabbinic pleaders. In the past only men were rabbinic pleaders. I fought to change the law so that women could also be toanot. Rachel Levmore was the first one and I hired her to work for us.
Today women make up more than fifty percent of rabbinic pleaders and I have found that in many cases the women toanot are more dedicated than the men.
After our successes in Israel we were approached by rabbinic courts in other countries for help. I answered every call and made suggestions wherever applicable. Unfortunately, outside of Israel, religious courts do not have the same powers of enforceability we have in Israel.
What do you hope to accomplish as a Knesset member?
I have been lobbying to make get refusal an extraditable offense for Israeli men who ran away to the U.S. I met with Homeland Security in Washington regarding Israeli men who are wanted in Israel for not granting their wives a divorce and who are in America illegally. I was not successful. But from the Knesset I hope to push through a law on behalf of these women whose husbands ran away – and to have Israel officially request the extradition of any Israeli man living outside Israel who has been ordered by a bet din to give a get and has not done so.
I would also like to expand our registry of gittin given in Israel to include gittin given all over the world. If this could be accomplished then even if a woman loses her document stating she was divorced, we would have the pertinent information listed in our registry.
About the Author: Naomi Klass Mauer is associate publisher of The Jewish Press.
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