Legislative Saga

I posted previously about efforts to pass legislation intended to force Rabbinic Courts to move to impose sanctions on recalcitrant husbands faster than they currently do (read: almost never).

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, it appears that even this step in now being blocked and set back in Knesset hearings.

The ongoing saga of an amendment bill to the law imposing punitive sanctions on men who refuse to give their wives a bill of divorce, or get, continued on Tuesday in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Despite hopes for a short hearing and a positive vote to send the bill to the Knesset for second and third readings, the hearing proved turbulent, and progress was again held up.

The committee had already approved the amendment at the beginning of November, but committee member MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas) requested that certain revisions be made before the bill reached the Knesset again.

In Tuesday’s hearing, it was committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) who raised objections, conveying the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs’ recently stated opposition to certain provisions of the bill. There will now be an additional hearing before a final vote is held on the proposed law.

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who proposed the bill, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he was hopeful that a compromise could be reached.

Batya Kehana – director of the Mavoi Satum organization, which campaigns for divorce reform, and one of the proponents of the bill – said that it was hugely important that it be passed.

“I hope a compromise can finally be reached between everyone,” she said. “It would help hundreds of women who have received a ruling from the rabbinical courts that their husbands must give them a get, but are still waiting for it.”

According to Kehana, in one case Mavoi Satum has been handling, a woman has been waiting 17 years to receive a get. In another case, a 28-year-old woman had to wait two years before the rabbinical court issued a directive for the husband to give the bill of divorce; six months later, the husband has still not complied.

Here’s where I have a problem with the proposed legislation: my sense is that for these cases which Batya Kehana describes, it would not be effective.

The proposed amendment seeks to obligate rabbinical courts, or batei din, to hold hearings on applying punitive sanctions to husbands who ignore the courts’ orders to give their wives a get.

Currently, batei din may impose sanctions such as preventing the husband from traveling abroad, confiscating his driver’s license, and even imprisonment, but they are not obligated to do so, and are not even obligated to hold a hearing.

This means that efforts to ensure that a recalcitrant husband gives his wife a divorce can drag on for many years.

The initial bill proposed that batei din be required to hold a hearing within 45 days if the court had previously issued an “obligatory” or “coercive” decree to make a husband give his wife a get, and within 105 days if the court had issued the directive as a “recommendation” or “command.”

Michaeli requested that the former of those periods be extended to 60 days, so as to allow more time for the husband to give the get freely, and the latter period to 120 days, to allow the couple to reach an agreement themselves without the need to proceed to a coercive decree.

The bill will also make it possible for the rabbinical courts to implement sanctions even if the husband does not turn up to the hearing.

Under current conditions, the get process is often delayed because recalcitrant husbands absent themselves from the proceedings.

Schneller and the proponents of the law agreed to the changes, but Rotem expressed the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs’ opposition to setting a different period for each of the two categories of directives.

Schneller told the Post that he personally believed there should be a differentiation, so that an “obligatory” or “coercive” directive from a rabbinical court would be seen as a more weighty and grave decree.

The initial bill also included instituting a computerized framework for tracking the progress of divorce cases.

However, Rotem separated this from the bill on sanctions hearings, making it a new bill.

Kehana stated that the bill would force the batei din to take responsibility for ensuring that a recalcitrant husband finally gave a get once ordered to do so.

So, while I am not in favour of legislation for the sake of legislation itself, I do think it is a sad sign that this bill is not getting passed for what it says about power politics and the willingness of the powers that be to work to ameliorate the situation.

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