Judge refuses to allow divorce in Jewish legal row

A SENIOR judge has refused to grant a civil divorce to a Jewish man because he is unreasonably denying his wife a religious bill of divorce.

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?