Men who refuse a get may lose burial rights
MEN WHO refuse to give their wives a religious bill of divorce may be stripped of their burial rights, the London Beth Din has confirmed.
The religious court of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis last week took the unprecedented step of publishing a notice in the JC banning from synagogue a man who had denied his wife a get.
The JC has learned that the Beth Din is actively considering the use of other sanctions in similar instances.
Joanne Greenaway, the Beth Din’s get caseworker, said: “The United Synagogue byelaws clearly provide for the right to membership to be terminated where a person has been ruled by the Beth Din as unreasonably withholding a get. The right of burial is contingent upon membership of the US. The Beth Din is fully prepared to make use of this sanction.”
Last week’s action centred on John Abayahoudayan, from north-west London, who has refused his wife Rivkah a get for 15 years.
The notice said that United Synagogue congregations should refuse him entry and went on “to invite people whether it is inappropriate for them to have social or business contacts with him until the get is given”.
Rabbi Isaac Abraham, registrar of the Sephardi Beth Din, said that it “fully supports the London Beth Din’s actions as advertised and are committed partners in helping in the cause of agunot [chained women]”.
Mr Abayahoudayan, who came to the UK from Iran when he was a teenager, is believed not to be a member of the US.
The Abayahoudayans were divorced in civil court in 2002. But unless a woman has a get, she is unable to remarry according to Jewish law and any children from a subsequent union would be considered mamzerim, illegitimate.
Mrs Abayahoudayan and the London Beth Din had thought of going public on her plight before but she felt it was inappropriate for her and her family at the time.
Mrs Greenaway said that it was “not easy for someone to be in the spotlight. It’s a big decision, so we work with the women in question about how we can help.”
She said that there were “a handful of really intractable cases but every case, even if not long-term, is difficult for the people involved to a degree”.
In another case, the Beth Din is planning a public protest against a husband refusing a get.
In the 1990s, the Federation of Synagogues issued an ostracism order against a recalcitrant husband, saying that people should not eat, drink with or go near him. He eventually relented and issued a get.
Nearly 20 years ago, the United Synagogue approved sanctions against get-refusers, denying them synagogue honours such as being called to the Torah.
But the biggest breakthrough in the UK came in 2002 with changes to divorce law England and Wales, which gave judges discretion to withhold a secular divorce if they were felt one of the parties was unreasonably preventing a religious divorce.
In Israel, where there is only religious but no civil marriage and divorce, obdurate husbands can have their passports taken away or even be thrown into jail.
But if they still refuse a get after these measures have been taken, the rabbinical courts say they are powerless to do more.