Judge refuses to allow divorce in Jewish legal row
Friday 24 December 1999
The ruling, by Judge Viljoen at Watford County Court, is unprecedented and suggests a new solution to the problem of Jewish men refusing to give their wives a get, without which they cannot remarry in a synagogue.
Judge Viljoen refused the husband's application for a decree absolute, the final stage of the civil divorce process. The case, reported in today's Jewish Chronicle, is the first known example of a senior judge supporting a wife's right to a religious divorce.
Judge Viljoen decided that English law allowed him to refuse an application for a decree absolute where it would cause hardship to one of the parties. The husband, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been given leave to appeal - a process that could ultimately lead to the case being heard in the House of Lords.
Under Jewish law, any future children of a woman without a get are deemed illegitimate, even if the mother remarried in a civil ceremony. Such children are in turn prevented from marrying another Jew in a synagogue.
The plight of these "chained women" - or agunot - has received much attention recently. The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, personally intervened in a controversial case earlier this month, convening a special court at his North London home to obtain a get for a Jewish woman.
The wife in the case at the Watford court said: "I'm a young mother with young children. I would like to be divorced according to Jewish law as well as under civil law, in order to get on with my life." Her solicitor, David Whiteman, said: "This is an important decision by an English court to assist in easing the plight of agunot."
However, Sandra Blackman, co-founder of the Agunot Campaign, sounded a note of caution. "This judge seems to have made a wise decision," she said. "But if the principle is accepted, there is a risk women could be stuck without either a get or a civil divorce."
Judge Viljoen studied letters from the London Beth Din (religious court) before arriving at his ruling that there would be "a grave injustice to the wife if the husband could obtain finality" in the civil divorce procedure, "yet still retain power over his wife in a Jewish court".
He took into account rulings from other cases, including comments made in a judgment by Mr Justice Wall in the High Court last summer, suggesting that civil courts have the power to delay a decree absolute if a spouse has not given a get. This discretionary power was made explicit in the new Family Law Act, but has been shelved over controversy surrounding some of its other provisions.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Pini Dunner, of the Saatchi Synagogue in west London, announced that he intended to display the names of the husbands of agunot on his synagogue noticeboard every Jewish Sabbath, and publish them, on request, on the Internet. He invited any woman whose ex-husband was denying her a religious divorce to inform him of his name, address and synagogue affiliation. Dr Sacks approved the strategy and said that, where all other measures had failed, he would consider adopting it himself.
- 1 Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
Rowan Atkinson to sell £10 million McLaren 'supercar' he crashed into a tree and a lamppost
UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
US blames Russia after rocket attacks in Ukraine kill at least 30
Warriors in ancient Iraq suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than 3,000 years ago, say researchers
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...
£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...
Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...