Jewish Divorce Laws in Israel: A Husband’s Power

n Israel, Jewish divorce laws are governed by religious customs, placing the power of granting a divorce firmly in the hands of the husband. This is the central theme of a new Israeli film, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem, which is currently being screened in the U.S. The film portrays the struggle of Viviane, a woman seeking a divorce, but unable to obtain one without her husband’s consent.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

The film’s setting is a small courtroom, where a couple and their advocates face three Orthodox rabbis. Regardless of one’s level of religious observance, Jewish law mandates the divorce process in Israel. However, the power to grant a divorce lies not with the rabbi-judges, but with the husband. This age-old law, as the film’s co-director and lead actress Ronit Elkabetz points out, leaves women feeling invisible, helpless, and often entirely dependent on their husband’s will.

The film also highlights the growing tension in Israel over the Orthodox religious rule’s influence on various aspects of life. The fear of becoming irrelevant is a genuine concern for Israel’s rabbinical judges. In an unusual move, they decided to watch this film. Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, a legal advisor to the court, expressed his disappointment with the film’s portrayal of the court, stating that it did not accurately represent their judges.

Despite the court’s claim of resolving 90% of their cases within a year, hundreds remain unresolved. One such case is that of Raia Denninberg, who has spent more than a third of her life, 28 years, trying to get divorced. While the civil courts approved the division of Denninberg’s property, her husband disappeared, leaving the religious court powerless to grant her a divorce.

Advocates are now pushing for changes, such as recognizing “separated” as a legal civil status. Rachel Levmore, one of the first women to serve as a lawyer in front of the rabbis, believes that while Jewish law is designed to evolve, divorce law has remained stagnant for centuries. The film, through its portrayal of these issues, casts a critical eye on the giants of religious law.

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