Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau has forced a man to grant his wife a religious divorce after ten years of saying no – by refusing permission for the man’s mother to be buried.
Lau’s extraordinarily effective intervention came after the Israel-based man spent a decade denying his wife a Jewish divorce, or get, meaning she was unable to remarry despite the man having remarried five years ago.
“This is the most severe case of Agunah,” said Lau. “For over ten years the husband totally refuses to allow his wife to continue her life while he is unlawfully married to a second wife.”
He added: “After all other options were exhausted, we were forced to inform the burial society not to bury his mother until a valid bill of divorce was given.”
Women’s rights groups say Jewish men can use the threat of get-refusal to force through a favourable financial settlement, meaning mediation can be needed. Two years ago, the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem has tried to broker a settlement between the couple, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
The situation came to a head on Monday when the man’s mother’s body was flown to Israel for burial. The man has now pledged to attend a hearing of the US rabbinical court and obey its ruling, and has offered a financial deposit that he loses if he fails to comply with his commitment.
The issue of Jewish men refusing their wives a get is becoming increasingly prominent, and in June, an Israeli woman whose husband had refused to grant a divorce for 23 years broke new ground by securing a ruling from a private Orthodox rabbinic court, clearing the way for her to remarry.