Kristine L Ming

Man allowed to marry second wife after divorce refusal to a divorce

A man who has been estranged from his wife for at least four years and whose wife in that time has refused to consent to a divorce has been given permission by the Haifa Rabbinical Court to marry a second wife.

The ruling is dependent on final approval from Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.

Such a decision is rare but not uncommon, and there are several dozen requests for permission to marry a second wife in such circumstances every year, of which a handful are granted. According to the Rabbinical Courts Administration, the man in question says he and his wife split up some eight years ago and he now lives by himself. He claims that his ex-wife has had relationships with other men since they split up but nevertheless refuses to consent to the divorce. The woman told the rabbinical court that they have lived apart for the last four years, but that “I will not divorce whatsoever. Only death will part us. I will not give a divorce. Love is as strong as death.”

The court has tried to convince the woman for several years to consent to the divorce, without success. “The court does not believe that the sides will ever return to life together. The husband is disgusted with his wife and the wife is disgusted with her husband, and in many opinions it would be permissible to forcibly divorce her,” wrote the rabbinical judges in their decision. “The woman is not willing to accept her bill of divorce,” the court continued, saying that it believed she was now taking revenge against her husband, adding that “despite several decisions of the rabbinical court the woman remains steadfast in her position to refuse to divorce.”

Because of the unyielding stance of the woman, the court said it had decided to give the man permission to marry a second wife. Under Jewish law, men may have more than one wife, although the practice was banned for Ashkenazi Jews by a decree of Rabbi Gershom Ben Yehudah in the 11th century. However, a man may be given dispensation from this decree in certain circumstances if he cannot obtain consent from his wife for a divorce, a measure which is known as the Dispensation of 100 Rabbis.

In the case in question, the husband is from the Sephardi community and did not require the dispensation since Rabbi Gershom Ben Yehudah’s decree was not adopted by Sephardi Jewry. Instead, the court simply sought the approval of Yosef, who has the final say on all decisions permitting a man to marry again. This solution for divorce refusal does not exist for women, since Jewish law prohibits women from having more than one husband.

In 2016, Yosef said that whenever he sees a case in which a woman has refused to accept a divorce for a significant period of time, he grants this dispensation quite readily. Despite the justifications of the Haifa rabbinical court, director of the Mavoi Satum divorce rights organization Batya Kehana Dror said that the dispensation for men who are refused a divorce by recalcitrant husbands highlighted the imbalance in the status of men and women in the rabbinical courts. “A woman will never get dispensation to marry again if her husband refuses to give a bill of divorce, and might lose her right to family life, to children, and to partnership forever,” she said.

“Therefore the rabbinical courts must do everything in their ability to help women get a divorce through not tolerating extortion or delaying giving a divorce by a husband, making broad use of sanctions against recalcitrant husbands , including imprisonment, and using nullification of marriages when husbands don’t give a divorce.”

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