A Lifetime of Revenge

This item appeared in the news here, about a man who will remain in prison indefinitely until such time as he gives his wife a get. He’s already spent ten years in prison under difficult conditions, but I guess that he derives a perverse pleasure from the vengeance he’s wracking on his wife’s life.

Here’s the article by Jeremy Sharon as it appeared in the Jerusalem Post:

The supreme rabbinical court of appeals upheld a life sentence handed down to a man who has refused for ten years to give his wife a bill of divorce.

Good for the Supreme Rabbinical Court, otherwise known as the Beit HaDin HaRabbani HaGadol.

Meir Gorodetzki was imprisoned by the Jerusalem rabbinical court in 2001 for refusing to allow his wife to divorce him and has spent the last ten years in jail for his ongoing refusal to give his wife a bill of divorce, or get.

Rabbinical courts have sole jurisdiction in matters pertaining to marriage and divorce, and have the ability to mete out punitive measures to convince a husband to give a wife a bill of divorce.

According to Jewish law, a man must grant his wife a get of his own volition before they can be divorced. A woman cannot remarry unless she receives a bill of divorce.

The maximum sentence that the rabbinical courts (beit din) can give for such an offense is ten years of imprisonment.

Gorodetzki’s sentence was coming to an end but his wife requested that he not be released, fearing that he would flee the country and she would never be able to remarry.

The Jerusalem rabbinical court ruled in May 2011 that Gorodetzki would remain in prison for as long as he continues to deny his wife a bill of divorce.

Gorodetzki appealed the case to the rabbinical court of appeals, the Great Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, claiming that the sentence infringed the country’s Basic Law of human dignity and freedom.

That claim has to be something like the man who murdered his parents asking the court for leniency since he’s an orphan. To use an argument that his basic rights are being denied to him while denying basic freedoms to another human being is outrageous. Fortunately, it seems that the dayanim saw it that way as well.

In the hearing in November, details of which have only now been released, the panel of rabbinical judges – headed by rabbinical supreme court president Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger – ruled against Gorodetzki. In a creative interpretation of the law, the judges ruled that it is Gorodetzki himself who is restricting his own freedom, as well as that of his wife, and that he holds the keys to his personal liberty.

“If the appellant is released from prison before he has divorced his wife, she will remain an agunah (a woman bound to her husband) for ever… Anyone who allows this would be considered as if they had shed her blood,” Metzger said during the hearing.

“The keys to your release are in your own hands… through the fulfillment of your obligations as a Jew. Release your wife and then you will receive your freedom,” Metzger told him.

Gorodetzki and his wife Tzviya Esther first married in 1983 in a civil marriage in the US but divorced in 1987. Gorodetzki emigrated to Israel in 1989, became Orthodox and joined the Chabad hassidic group. The couple then remarried in 1991.

Gorodetzki’s wife subsequently accused him of physical violence and verbal abuse, and the Jerusalem rabbinical court ordered him to give his wife a get in December 1999.

He refused to grant his wife the get and was imprisoned by the Jerusalem court in October 2001. Despite his incarceration, Gorodetzki continued to deny his wife a get and the court ordered additional measures be taken against him, including barring him from receiving visitors, letters or telephone calls (apart from with his lawyer); preventing him from receiving mehadrin (stringently kosher) food; two 90-day periods of solitary confinement; and barring him from buying food in the prison canteen. The court also instructed the prison to provide psychiatric treatment and denied a request by Gorodetzki for his children to be allowed to visit him.

“We are very happy with this ruling and it sends a very strong message,” said Batya Kehana.

However, it is a shame that these kinds of sanctions get used in so few cases. Instead, it needs to become the norm. In the majority of cases where husbands are sent to prison, they quickly give a get.

She added that for cases with men that exhibit psychological pathologies who are prepared to sit in jail for extremely long periods rather than divorce their wives, the rabbinical courts should annul the marriage retroactively, based on the principle in Jewish law of “mistaken acquisition.” “If a man denies a woman her freedom, then he should have his own freedom denied,” she added.

It will be interesting to watch this case, to see if the added prison sentence moves Gorodetzki to do the right thing. Can freedom taste sweeter than revenge?

According to a recent study conducted by the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, punitive sanctions are imposed by rabbinical courts in only 1.5% of the cases in which they are applicable.

Such measures include preventing a recalcitrant husband from traveling abroad, confiscating his driver’s license, being struck off from professional associations and imprisonment.

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7 Responses to A Lifetime of Revenge

  1. Rachel Hershberg says:

    Thanks for the post, Esther. Can you please explain more about Batya Kehana’s recommendation? This is a halachic solution to the problem? Is this a truly viable option, or not practical?

  2. shaananlaw says:

    There is a doctrine known as “kidushei ta’ut” meaning that there was a fundamental error at the time of the marriage, so that the marriage contract is void. I believe that the idea of the error is that the woman erred in her understanding of the husband’s character; had she known his character was such that he would behave the way he did in the marriage, she would not have married him, so that marriage is annulled. You can see more information about this and other mechanisms at this site: http://www.agunahinternational.com/halakhic.htm.
    Having said this, many of these mechanisms do not enjoy widespread support for halachic reasons, though I am sure there are those who would say they are for political reasons. You can see a discussion of this here: http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/253/Q1/
    Personally, while I don’t think know that there are solutions for the extremely vindictive people described in the JPost article in my post, I do think that community sanctions are fairly effective for sort of mid-level creeps who won’t give a get. In other words, communities need to make a decision and take a clear stand that withholding a get is socially and morally unacceptable. It won’t solve all the cases, but it will solve some.

  3. Former Jew says:

    The decision and this article are only more of the determination of both secular and religious Jews to ride roughshod over men’s human rights in your quest to make Jewish men completely subordinate to the female.

    Jewish women have no objection to a Ketuba which makes the male an economic slave; they only object when the religious law hurts them, but have no objection when the religious law hurts the male.

    Further, government has no business enforcing religion, much less by lifetime prison. A civilised country like the USA would never perpetrate such a judicial murder of a husband.

    Well, I am one Jewish male who is telling you where to get off. I am leaving Judaism becuase of this; Jewish women can have their babies with test tubes, not me.

    I doubt you’ll have the courage to publish this post.

    • shaananlaw says:

      You certainly are a maverick in the field of who is subordinating whom.
      However, it’s clear to me that you are writing out of a great deal of pain, so I can only say that I am sorry for that.
      Please note – as did Rabbi Metzger in his decision – that no one is committing “judicial murder” or even forcing the husband to spend his lifetime in prison. He could very easily close the bars behind him in a minute if he only agreed to give a get. So, he has no one to blame for his condition but himself.
      Parenthetically, and related to issues of criminal sentencing, not family matters, you would do well to compare US criminal sentencing policies with those in Israel; I think you’ll find that Israel locks up criminals for much less time than the US criminal justice system.

  4. Former Jew says:

    Shaanan, there are many problems in this matter.

    The first is that no modern state has any business enforcing religious law, much less putting anyone in prison for ostensible failure to abide by religious law.

    A second problem is that divorce is supposed to be of free volition, not forced.

    A third is that the wife is free to leave the religion, and the bet din is free to excommunicate the husband. It is a fundamental violation of the husband’s human rights to instead involve the state and prison, much less for life.

    The state of divorce in Israel is also a problem, with the father receiving custody only 2% of the time; when itshould be 50%. (At least France and the uSA are at 25%-35%.)

    The Ketubah is a problem; it makes the male an economic slave. Jewish women had no objections tohat, and now hyprocritically object to toher parts of the law?

    Finally, the west often says the Arab countries primitive in allowing a man to divorce a wife against her will. So why should a Jewish woman be able to divorce a man against his will?

    Secular Israel also discriminates against the male in many other ways, from a retirement age 5 years later, to a brully and often fatally greater military obligation.

    Thus both secular and religious Judaism treat the male as an untermensch; I’m walking away from Judaism.

    • I’m walking away from Judaism….

      that’s probably a good idea. you don’t really get it anyway. the question is, will you walk away from judaism? or will you spend the rest of your life as an “ex-jew” compulsively bad mouthing it?

  5. Pingback: Leap of Bad Faith | The Missing Peace

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