Friday, September 18, 2015

Calling get-refusal a tort: Direct confrontation between religious values and secular ones

This is an interesting article from Susan Weiss about using secular tort law to "solve" the Aguna problem. It shows the inherent conflict between secular and religious thought in this matter.  "Susan Weiss is the founder and executive director of the Center for Women’s Justice and a doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv University in sociology and anthropology. She initiated the tort cases described in this paper."

The following are the last two pages. Click the link to read the whole thing.


Calling get-refusal a tort provokes a direct confrontation between religious values and modern ones. Get-refusal is about male dominion over women. Equal power to sue for divorce is about liberty, autonomy, and equality for women. It is a modern notion. The tort of get-refusal forces the rabbinical court to confront modernity and to conduct a dialogue, whether they want to or not, with women..

It was, and remains, the hope of Israeli cause lawyers that this dialogue and confrontation would yield a transformative response from the rabbinic court and religious communities that will untie the knots between gender, equality, and Jewish divorce law. 

Various transformative response are imaginable, some more radical than other, all of which are
possible: (1) The rabbinic courts could embrace the tort of get-refusal as a way to help
them resolve difficult cases. Theoretically at least, the rabbis could encourage women to
sue for damages in the civil court as a way of warning husbands against recalcitrance. (2)
Rabbinic leaders might be encouraged to find internal systemic halakhic solutions to the
problem of religious divorce; (3) Alternative Israeli Orthodox rabbis could break with
existing rabbinic judges to form more modern rabbinic courts; and (4) An increasing rift
may develop between the secular and religious courts that would pave the way for the
legislation of secular marriage and divorce in Israel..

Rabbinic Supreme Court Responds to Tort Claims: March 11, 2008:

Despite the effectiveness of the tort law in solving long-standing cases in the rabbinic court (not to mention doing justice), the Israeli rabbinic courts have not embraced tort as a solution, or as a way of ameliorating, the problem of get-refusal. On the contrary. As more and more women have been suing for damages for get-refusal, the rabbinic court has been expressing more and more opposition to those cases on religious grounds, arguing that these case violate the rule against the forced divorce (get meuseh). The rabbis claim that husbands who give the get after they’ve been sued in tort, are not giving the divorce freely, but in response to the tort cases.
On March 11, 2008, the Supreme Rabbinic Court (file 7041-21-1)issued a 26 page decision (all obiter dictum) in which it held as follows:
All petitions filed outside the rabbinic court – like petitions to civil courts for damages — that relate to get refusal, whose practical consequence is to acceleratethe delivery of the get, are an interference with the laws of the Torah regardingdivorce, and effectively preclude the possibility of the execution of a [kosher] get…
Attorneys who deal in family law should be advised to weigh carefully their recommendations to clients to file damage claims in the family court for getrefusal. Such recommendations are tantamount to malpractice, and I doubt that attorneys could avoid such claims [of malpractice], even it if they were to sign their clients on waivers to that affect. It can be assumed that clients are not aware, and cannot possibly foresee, what serious consequences and delays can occur inthe delivery of the get , even after the husband has agreed to give the get, if the husband's agreement [to give the get] was given subsequent to a petition for  damages for get-refusal (J. Algrabli).

In short, the rabbinic court declared in no uncertain terms that it would not yield to outside attempts to reform its failings and wielded, once again, the immutable rule against the "forced divorce"(get meuseh), thus re-winding the knot of religion that had for a moment loosened.

In Conclusion
The tort of get-refusal is delineating, distinguishing, demystifying; and defrocking the knots that bind gender, equality, and Jewish divorce law. The tort has prompted an important dialogue in the Israeli courts between modernity and tradition, between liberal principles and religious values. It remains to be seen how that dialogue will play itself out and if the knots that bind Israeli Jewish women unremittingly to their husbands will somehow be undone. It could be that women will lose patience in their attempt to unravel these knots and will simply cut them in order to escape entanglement

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