Bad News, Good News and In Between

As part of the flurry of end-of-2012 statistics publicized in the beginning of 2013, the local media recently carried the latest update as to divorce rates in the Jewish population in Israel.

Here’s how the Times of Israel covered the story:

There is some bad news, in that the rate rose last year.

The divorce rate among Israeli Jews rose some 5 percent in 2012, with close to 11,000 couples untying the knot, according to statistics released this week by the Chief Rabbinate.

The report also showed that some 88,000 Jewish couples filed to initiate divorce proceedings in 2012, a 9% increase over 2011. The highest concentration of divorces was in Tel Aviv, with Jerusalem a close second.

I am curious as to whether Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are the leaders in divorce rates as absolute numbers, or the proportionate leaders relative to the population of the cities.I suspect – based solely on professional anecdotes from colleagues and with no scientific basis whatsoever, that there are towns (which I won’t mention) in which the divorce rate as a percentage of the population is higher than Jerusalem, if not Tel Aviv.

Because the rabbinate oversees marriage for Jewish citizens only, the statistics do not cover divorces for non-Jews in Israel, which are handled by separate agencies.

For those of you who don’t know, there is no such thing as civil divorce in Israel. Jewish couples need to be divorced by the Rabbinic Court, Muslims by the Sharia Court, Christians by the ecclesiastic court of their respective communities. Mixed couples, ie couples in which the parties are from different religious communities, must go through a process of dissolution of the marriage in the Family Court. This system, with slight amendments over the years, has been in place since the days of the British Mandate, maintained for a variety of political and religious reasons.

The divorce rate in Israel has traditionally been lower than that of other industrialized countries. For example, according to OECD statistics, in 2009 the divorce rate in the country was 30%, while the US’s rate was 50%, France’s 52% and the UK’s 54%.

So, the good news is that Israel’s divorce rate is still lower than other Western countries. Here’s more good news:

The rabbinate’s statistics, more happily, seemed to show an improvement in the plights of women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce. In 2012, 163 such women were granted a divorce certificate, up from 97 in 2011, and the statistics showed an increase in court orders and arrest warrants for the recalcitrant husbands.

Or not, depending on your perspective.

However, according to Batya Kahana-Dror, director of Mavoi Satum, an NGO that deals with the issue, the statistics don’t reveal the full picture.

“The courts are hiding from public view their conservative position, which sees… imposing a divorce as forbidden, and divorce as nonkosher,” she told Yedioth Ahronoth. She added that the court didn’t release figures for the “true number” of women whose husbands refused to grant a divorce, and called the statistics on legal action against husbands “misleading.”

I’m not sure what Kahana-Dror’s problem is; could be she provided more meat to her criticism than the article published. However, when we see an upturn in the number of women finally being granted divorces, I don’t think that the only response is cynicism.

“The result of the court’s policy is thousands of Israeli women imprisoned by their husbands, who cannot continue their lives and have a new family or children,” Kahana-Dror said.

There’s an ongoing difference of opinion between the official Rabbinate’s statistics as to how many women are imprisoned by their husbands. My sense is that the official view is low, but the numbers thrown out by some NGOs are high. It’s all a question of how we define our terms, and at what point we say that someone is being held in a marriage and denied the right to divorce and a new life.

This entry was posted in Beit Din, Divorce, Life in Israel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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