MPs and Rabbis move to solve divorce crisis

New parliamentary group formed as dayanim meet abuse charities


Parliamentarians and rabbis are attempting to solve the crisis over Jewish divorce following accusations that rabbinical courts have been siding with domestic abusers and enabling the “backmail” of chained wives.

Two weeks ago, the Federation of Synagogues warned it would refuse to approve a get (a halachic divorce) to any woman who initiated a criminal prosecution against her husband for “coercive and controlling behaviour” under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

The dayanim ruled that because a get has to be given of “free will”, legal action would make it “halachically impossible” for a wife to be granted one if she resorted to court action.

The statement triggered widespread outrage in the community, with parliamentarians, lawyers and activists lining up to denounce the rabbis.

In an apparent move to find a resolution to the dispute, the Federation of Synagogues this week revealed it had been seeking a “creative” solution in discussions with domestic abuse charity Jewish Women’s Aid and GettOutUK, the lobby group which fights for agunot, or chained women.

In addition, the JC can reveal that a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Jewish divorce is being established.

Lord Mendelsohn and Baroness Altmann will be among the office-holders of the new APPG, which will include peers and MPs from all political parties.

One aim of the APPG will be to find “public policy solutions that will work”, and to see if existing approaches, such as those in the Netherlands and the US, can apply in the UK.

The Federation of Synagogues issued a new statement this week saying that “with mutual respect and creativity” they were exploring ways in which the law could be “applied and developed to further assist in achieving halachically valid gittin for even the most challenging situations”.

The Federation was “optimistic that this collaboration can achieve positive results”.

Lord Mendelsohn and Baroness Altmann “warmly welcomed” the new discussions with the Federation rabbis, and said that the new APPG would be “an excellent forum” for the rabbis to work with.

Lord Mendelsohn told the JC: “This statement is a very welcome new approach and everyone will be delighted to engage constructively with them.

“There is an important task ahead to bridge the expanding divergence between the development and use of UK civil and criminal law, and Halacha as it is applied at the moment.

“We are happy to help where possible, and keep engaged to make sure they apply whatever changes they make to support the plight of women caught up in these terrible cases.”

Lady Altmann said: “I really hope the batei din will engage with the Statutory Guidance process, to ensure the new law works as helpfully as possible, both to protect agunot from abuse, and to facilitate their freedom to get on with their lives within the Orthodox Jewish fold.”

The APPG and Federation announcements come days after the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said he would convene a series of meetings with “key stakeholders” in the get debate, including rabbis and dayanim from the London Beth Din, lawyers and women’s support groups.

Daniel Greenberg, CB, a barrister specialising in legislation, warned earlier this week that some agunot were being subject to “blackmail”.

He said that in some “appalling histories of get refusal”, he had repeatedly heard the phrase “minor matters outstanding”, which were “generally the payment of money or the relinquishment of a financial claim, before the get can be arranged”.

Mr Greenberg said that “demanding money (whether under the pretence of a debt or not) with the threat of withholding a get unless it is paid, is a simple case of blackmail,” and warned that a dayan or Beth Din registrar who facilitated this kind of demand may themselves be committing an offence.


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