Jew 'banned' by community for blocking divorce

Trials of Judaism: Call to aid women's plight
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They celebrated the perfect Orthodox Jewish wedding 13 years ago. But Moses David, 43, was alone again yesterday, after being officially ostracised by the Jewish community over his acrimonious divorce from his wife.

The official order to avoid contact with Mr David, an unemployed computer analyst, was issued last week after he repeatedly failed to attend a Jewish court hearing over his refusal to grant Rachel David, 30, a religious divorce known as a get.

The rabbis, anxious to hear both sides of the dispute, finally reverted to issuing the declaration, called a nidui. Jews are forbidden from sitting within six feet of Mr David, entering his home, or eating with him.

For leaders of the Federation of Synagogues it was a dramatic step. The declaration, the first in Britain in a century, was posted to synagogues around Mr David's home in Mill Hill, north London.

It reads: "In accordance with Halachah, all members of the community are called upon to respect this declaration, and to adhere to the above restrictions."

As Mr David's three children were dropped off at his sister's home to visit him yesterday, they were among the few guests he will receive.

Although Mrs David gained a civil divorce from her husband four years ago, she cannot consider herself free to enter into another relationship until he grants her a get. Under Jewish law the marriage contract is literally torn into two pieces to signify its end.

For many women Mrs David's plight is a painful and fitting tale of the trials of Judaism in modern Britain. Jewish leaders, including Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has been trying to change the 2,000-year-old law to allow women easier divorces.

Mrs David, who works as a purchasing buyer for a medical equipment company, married at 17. But by 1986, when Mrs David was pregnant with her third child, she said she already felt like a prisoner in the marriage. "It was a really very difficult marriage from the start and I'd entered it so young," Mrs David said.

"I just walked out of the house one day in 1986 with the three children, and left him. I took nothing with me, I had nothing. I had been so innocent when I married him."

But Mrs David said she was devastated when her husband took their children away to Israel, after a Sunday visit. "He just never came back, and then I got a call from him to say he was in Israel and the children were with him there. It was terrible. I didn't know what to do."

The couple reconciled their differences but in 1991 Mrs David said she reached breaking point. She returned to her parents' home leaving and eventually Mr David gave her custody of the children.

But Mr David consistently refused to give his wife a get. He also failed to respond to three summons from Beth Din, the Jewish court.

Mrs David said she appealed to the Federation of Synagogues ,a separate body to the Sephardi synagogue Mr. David attends, out of desperation. "I know I'm helping a lot of other women by making a stand," Mrs David said. "These declarations are issued all the time in the United States. But in England we're much more conservative, and Jewish women have to suffer as a result."

The Federation said the leaders could not make a judgment unless Mr David attended the court. "This law goes back hundreds of years and it inspires tremendous social pressure, even in our society which is much freer now," said Dayan Berel Berkovits, of the federation. Mr. David was not available for comment yesterday. His synagogue has not decided whether it will join in the nidui.