Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Council on Thursday ruled that in difficult cases of get refusal, the burial of the refuser’s relatives must be banned until he grants the get. The decision followed the discussions in a difficult case in which the aguna wife has been stranded for more than 18 years in the US, while her husband succeeded in marrying another woman in California in 2014.
The aguna, Haya Lana, appealed many times to the rabbinical courts in the US, but the husband insisted on refusing to grant her the get and didn’t even bother to show up for the hearings while enjoying his new marital life. In August, Haya Lana submitted a request to the Chief Rabbinate via attorneys Daniel Schwartz and Avraham Ben-Zvi, for an order that as long as the get is not granted, the transfer of bodies and burial in Israel of the husband and his relatives, including his father who is on his deathbed, must be banned.
The appeal was based on a ruling by the Rabbinical Council in California––which was accepted by a special panel of the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem––that no immediate relatives of the refuser may be buried in cemeteries in Israel.
The Chief Rabbinate was initially reluctant to help the suffering woman but was compelled to do so following a ruling of Israel’s High Court of Justice that ordered the Chief Rabbinate Council and the Ministry of Religious Services to comply with the Haya Lana’s demand.
This is not the first time that the rabbinic courts in Israel try to put pressure on a get refuser through sanctions against his relatives. Over the last seven years, extremely severe sanctions have been applied against the parents of one get refuser who came on a visit to Israel––because the rabbinical court attributed to them the encouragement of their get refuser son. They were banned from ever leaving Israel, including for family events, and the father was imprisoned for a long time and had to pay heavy fines.
In 2017, the High Court of Justice rejected petitions that had been filed by two get refusers who fled abroad and protested against the creative sanctions placed on them by the rabbinical courts in Israel. The Israeli rabbinical courts contacted the communities where they fled and requested that they be boycotted and shamed.
The get refusers argued that the rabbinic courts are not authorized to apply additional sanctions against them beyond those explicitly listed by Israeli law. But the High Court denied their petition and stated that the rabbinic courts have the authority to apply sanctions that are not prescribed by law against get refusers in Israel and abroad, as long as these are only recommendations––which they are by definition since Israeli rabbinic courts they have no legal enforcement powers elsewhere.
Moriah Dayan, a rabbinic attorney employed by the Yad La’Isha organization of Or Torah Stone, who is an expert in representing in the rabbinical courts women who are denied a get, wrote last July in Makor Rishon: “Based on my many years of experience and the hundreds of cases I have been exposed to, get refusers usually don’t operate in a vacuum. They are helped and supported by their immediate environment, and receive from it a vindication for their refusal both in mental and economic aspects.”
Dayan stated that in the case that was now decided by the rabbinical court, the refuser’s father and his brother participated in the refuser’s wedding with his second wife, knowing that he was depriving his wife Haya Lana of her freedom, and all this while grossly and insolently violating the halacha and civil law which both prohibit bigamy. “Should their dignity be spared when they violate and humiliate for years the dignity of the afflicted woman? No way,” she said.
Dayan also brilliantly anchored her support for the burial ban on the halachic principle that the rights of the living supersede the rights of the dead.
Attorney Avraham Ben-Zvi said, “The Chief Rabbinate today sends a clear message in her decision, that the Jewish state will not continue to be a place of refuge for depraved Jewish husbands, who exploit the halacha and the institutions of the Jewish state in the most cynical way, in order to escape from halachic, social and community sanctions, and continue to abuse their wives instead of emancipation them from their mooring chains.”