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Israel: Wanted: Husbands Who Disappear Without Divorcing Their Wives

(Mar. 14, 2013) In March 2013, Israel’s Rabbinical Courts’ Administration started posting photographs of and personal information about husbands who have disappeared without divorcing their wives. The public posting of this information on “runaway husbands,” who are considered as having left their wives agunot (chained), is intended to shame them so that they either voluntarily subject themselves to the jurisdiction of the Rabbinical Courts or be forced to appear after having been identified. (Wanted [in Hebrew], Rabbinical Courts’ Administration website (last visited Mar. 13, 2013); Lior Shadmi Shpitzer, The Shame Parade, The Rabbinical Courts’ Website Publishes the Photos of the Refusers Who Disappeared [in Hebrew], TAKDIN LEGAL DATABASE (Mar. 11, 2013).)

Among details posted to identify the “runaway husbands” are country of birth, height, facial structure, hair color, ethnic origin, occupation, place of residence in Israel, accent, and body build. The Rabbinical Courts’ Administration website calls on the public to contact the Administration and provide any relevant information regarding the whereabouts of the persons listed on the “wanted” list. (Wanted, supra & Shpitzer, supra.)

In accordance with the Rabbinical Court Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, 5713-1953, marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel who are Israeli residents and citizens are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Rabbinical Courts. The Law further provides that marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel must be conducted under Jewish law. In accordance with Jewish law, a marriage may end only upon divorce based on both spouses’ free, mutual consent, or upon death.

For a Jewish divorce to be recognized as valid, the husband must grant his wife a writ of divorce (a get) and she must willingly accept it. Rabbinical Courts do not have the authority to terminate a marriage. Instead, they may issue orders for the parties to try to resolve their differences or to effectuate a divorce. (Rabbinical Court Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, 5713-1953, 7 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL 139 (5713-1952/53).)