On November 30, 2021, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the Rabbinical Court Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce (Amendment No. 5 and Temporary Order) Law, 5782-2021 (Amendment Law). The Amendment Law extends the jurisdiction of Israeli rabbinical courts to adjudicate divorce cases involving parties that do not comply with the requirements under the Rabbinical Court Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, 5713-1953, as amended. The extension will be in effect until June 30, 2027.
Dissolution of Marriage Under Jewish Law
For a divorce to be considered valid under Jewish law, the consensual transfer of a get (writ of divorce under Jewish law) from the husband to the wife and her consensual receipt of it must take place. Special rules govern the text of the get and the evidence necessary to prove its validity. Rabbinical courts do not have the authority to dissolve a marriage. Rather, they engage in adjudication of divorce claims and are authorized to issue a declaration testifying to the lawful compliance with the rules that apply to the delivery of the get.
Jewish women who have not received a get in accordance with the requirements of Jewish law are considered agunot (chained) and are unable to remarry.
Rabbinical courts in Israel enjoy exclusive jurisdiction over “matters of marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel, [whether they are] citizens of the state or its residents.” (Rabbinical Court Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, 5713-1953, as amended, § 1.)
Rabbinical courts are also authorized to adjudicate divorce claims involving Jewish spouses who were married under Jewish law but are not Israeli citizens or residents if any one of the following circumstances exists:
(1) the defendant’s place of residence is in Israel;
(2) both spouses are Israeli citizens;
(3) the plaintiff’s place of residence is in Israel, provided that he or she has resided there for at least one year before filing the claim;
(4) the plaintiff’s place of residence is in Israel, provided that the spouses’ last joint residence was in Israel;
(5) the plaintiff is an Israeli citizen and his or her place of residence in Israel;
(6) The plaintiff is an Israeli citizen and has resided there for one year during the two years preceding the date of filing the claim. (§ 4A (a).)
Adjudication of Jewish Women’s Claims for Divorce When a Get Cannot Be Processed Outside of Israel
The Amendment Law expands the grounds for extending the Israeli rabbinical courts’ jurisdiction to include situations where a Jewish woman filed for receipt of a get, and the marriage had been celebrated according to Jewish law, but there is no rabbinical court at the place of residence of either spouse before which the divorce can be processed.
Additional grounds for extending the jurisdiction include noncompliance by the husband with a summons issued by a rabbinical court outside Israel within four months from the date of issue, or the husband’s failure to deliver a get in violation of an order by a rabbinical court outside Israel within six months following the ruling, despite reasonable efforts by the court or the wife’s representatives to procure a get. (§ 4B 1(a).)
Adjudication of divorce claims by Israeli rabbinical courts under these circumstances requires the defendant to have been lawfully served in Israel or to have been in Israel at the time of the filing. Additionally, if the parties were married according to the law applicable in a foreign country, Israeli rabbinical courts will acquire jurisdiction only if the parties were divorced according to that law. If there were special circumstances that made it difficult for such a divorce to take place in a foreign country, however, it is sufficient that a divorce claim was filed in a competent court in a foreign country and the plaintiff acted with due diligence to conduct the divorce. Adjudication of a Jewish divorce by an Israeli rabbinical court will not prevent a competent court in a foreign country from hearing a claim for a civil divorce between the spouses or adjudicating other related issues. (§ 4B 1(c)–(d).)
Implementation and ReportingThe Amendment Law prescribes procedures for adjudication of extraterritorial divorce claims. (§ 4B 2.) It further imposes on the director of the rabbinical courts a duty to report annually to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on the number of claims for a get filed based on inability to be processed outside of Israel; the number of those adjudicated; those that ended in the grant of a get; the time frame involved; the grounds for extension of jurisdiction; and the countries of residence of the parties involved. The reporting duty is in effect until June 30, 2027. (§ 4B 3.)