In an historic decision by the Israeli Supreme Court of May 5, 2016, the Court denied the petition of a grandfather who alleged that the Rabbinical Court's decision to impose his son's child support obligation upon him infringed on his natural rights.
The petitioner's son had been declared a “mesarev get” (a person who willfully refuses to comply with the rabbinical court's direction to give or receive a Jewish bill of divorce, known as a “get”) by the local Rabbinical Court of the Jerusalem area. After the son's refusal, the Rabbinical Court attempted to sway the son to give his wife a get by using the classical rabbinic tools frequently utilized by Rabbinical Courts in Israel. These classical tools are called “harchakot d'rabeinu tam,” which are distancing measures designed to persuade a recalcitrant spouse to comply with the Rabbinical Court's directives, mainly through ostracizing him or her from the community.
However, these distancing measures did not resolve the recalcitrance, and the son fled to the Ukraine. So in July of 2015, the local Rabbinical Court of the Jerusalem area ordered the petitioner to pay 2000 New Israeli Shekels per month – the difference between his son's child support obligation and the amount that his son's wife was receiving in government assistance – explicitly in order to persuade the petitioner to pressure his son to give his wife a get.
The petitioner appealed the local Rabbinical Court's decision to the High Rabbinical Court, which affirmed the lower court's decision. The petitioner then appealed the High Rabbinical Court's decision to the Israeli Supreme Court – the highest court in Israel. As the Supreme Court Justices pointed out in this decision, the Supreme Court does not generally sit in review of the High Rabbinical Court. However, the Supreme Court will hear certain extreme applications where there is proof that the Rabbinical Court exceeded its authority and infringed on the natural rules of justice. However, in reviewing the petitioner's appeal, the Supreme Court found that the appeal should be denied for failure to pinpoint any defect in the Rabbinical Court judgment. The Supreme Court found that if the petitioner had factual claims to address (such as whether the Rabbinical Courts had taken his low income into account when rendering their decisions) he could choose to address that question with the Rabbinical Courts.
Although measures like holding a grandparent responsible for a child's failure to pay his or her support obligation are prohibited in the United States by constitutional principles, this is an interesting development in the analysis of addressing the issue of recalcitrance in Jewish divorce. Of particular relevance to this line of thinking, another local Rabbinical Court recently imprisoned the father of a man who was likewise mesarev get as well as in significant child support arrears. The Israeli Courts have now taken more aggressive action against though that do not give a Get.
*Mindy Fersel, Esq. of the firm assisted in the preparation of this blog