A London woman this week expressed shock at the prospect of being divorced by a rabbinical court against her will — in part because she allegedly wore clothes it deemed “provocative”.
Karin Gabay, a single mother of seven living in a council house, said she was “devastated” and “completely shocked” by the Sephardi Bet Din decision. She has been in dispute with her former husband over maintenance payments.
The Bet Din — whose action has placed it at odds with other rabbinical courts — explained that it acted in Mrs Gabay’s best interests to ensure she would be free to remarry.
Under Jewish law, if a man refuses his wife a get, a religious bill of divorce, she is considered an agunah, a chained woman denied the right to remarriage.
However, if a woman refuses to accept a get, the rabbinical authorities may intervene to release the husband from the marriage. Mrs Gabay and her husband Asaf underwent a civil divorce last year.
A spokesman for the Sephardi Bet Din (SBD) said that after Mrs Gabay had ignored three requests to contact the Bet Din, the get was issued “to protect [her] from becoming an agunah, as her ex-husband had raised the threat that, if the get was not issued now, he would never co-operate in giving a get”.
The spokesman said that in the event of Mrs Gabay not accepting the get, the rabbinical court would consider the option of applying a get zikkui — divorcing her without her consent. Normally, rabbinic courts resort to this only in the case of adultery.
The grounds for a get zikkui are set out in a document written in rabbinic Hebrew by the SBD head, Dayan Saadia Amor. It cites complaints of religious laxity against an unnamed woman, including that she “dressed provocatively, worse than a common harlot”.
Mr Gabay told the JC that his ex-wife had been seen in “mini-skirts with long nails and hair extensions”. But Mrs Gabay protested: “I dress respectfully, I keep Shabbat in the house. I do not know why they are talking about what I wear.”
The SBD spokesman said the document used a complex set of arguments in Jewish law intended to ensure that Mrs Gabay was not left an agunah. “We are all too aware of situations… where a religious divorce is not granted, thereby hindering both the man and the woman to remarry. The Sephardi Bet Din is utterly committed to address such problems, recognising that fractured families do not need to be punished further through the delay of a [get].”
The Sephardi Bet Din licenses a restaurant Mr Gabay runs, Chopstix, and Sami’s, a restaurant owned by his father.
Mrs Gabay said she did not attend the Sephardi court as the London Beth Din had been handling her case. The London Beth Din wrote last month to the Sephardi court expressing surprise over its involvement.
Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation Beth Din, said he did not agree with the SBD. “I don’t think there are grounds for a get zikkui here.”
Sharon Shenhav, head of a women’s-rights project, condemned the decision: “Jewish women have the right to expect to be treated with fairness and justice.”