My experience in the Rabbinic high court was extremely difficult. Each time I was there, I felt that I was encountering resistance from the dayanim (rabbinic judges) who were very unhelpful. They did not listen to me, did not let me speak, and did not really care about my predicament. While I was speaking in court, one dayan fell asleep and another fiddled with his phone. I had travelled a long distance to arrive to the court sessions with my young child and the dayanim would be late for court sessions and did not take these sessions seriously . Many of the hearings were postponed and I did not receive answers back in time. I felt helpless.
My husband was the one who initiated divorce proceedings. He opened two cases – one in the rabbinical court and one in the family court. We broke up because we did not get along, and he left our home. I was pregnant at the time and he tried to deny me my rights as a woman and as a future mother to his child. After wearing me down I agreed to give up my rights to receive a divorce and suddenly he demanded ‘Shalom bayit’ – that’s how we got back together before our son’s birth. When we split up for the second time and arrived at the rabbinic court, our baby was already eight months old. My husband claimed he was confused and that he was not sure he wanted to split up even though in practice we were already separated. There was no communication between us, and there was no chance we would get back together. He asked’ for ‘shalom bayit to frustrate and exhaust me.
On one hand he said that he wanted us to get back together but he also hinted to the dayanim that I might refuse to accept the divorce. I told the judges that this was our second time in the divorce process, and that the previous two times he had opened the case, and that I, for my part, wanted a divorce. I argued that there was no future for our relationship, that he was demanding ‘shalom bayit’ just to make me miserable. He knew how important religion was to me while he was an atheist, and he did not care if I received a ‘get’ or not – it had no significant impact on his life. They rejected my argument and claimed as that he was the one who opened the case he could change his mind and they could not force him to give me a ‘get’.
They suggested that I open my own case and did not agree to continue the hearing that day so we had to set a new date. This was before the courts’ summer break, so the third hearing was scheduled three months later. I begged them to discuss my request for a divorce that day but no one listened to me. Before the next hearing, my husband boarded a plane abroad and disappeared.
At first, his lawyers claimed that he went abroad to work and that he would return but I knew that this was a lie. Consequently the dayanim postponed the hearing for a further two months, but he did not attend the next hearing. His lawyers resigned and I felt like my life was on the verge of breaking up.
Even though he had fled the country the dayanim continued to believe that he would return and kept on postponing the hearings as they did not want to continue the hearings without him. I felt that all along, regardless of what my husband was doing, they were taking his side. I was very hurt by this personally as I expected that when I went to a rabbinic court and told my story, there would be consideration or empathy, because I was observant. His contempt for Judaism was irrelevant to them. I felt that the religious establishment, which represented things I believed in, had betrayed me.
I began a process to be defined as an ‘Aguna’ so that I could be eligible for assistance from the Agunot Division of the rabbanut. I decided to employ a private investigator to help locate my husband.
I also knew that if I did not take my case in hand no one would bother with it.
I had clues that could lead the dayanim to find my husband. I knew which country he had fled to and I passed this information to the Agunot Division where I was told that they had started working on my case, but in reality nothing was done.
My case lay dormant for two months. I would call them on a daily basis but I was told that for the sake of the investigation they could not share details with me, and when it was relevant they would let me know what was happening. They assured me that I did not have to worry and that there was a group of investigators dealing with my case but it was only after a few months of calling every day that it became clear to me that no private investigators had been appointed to find my husband.
I turned to Mavoi Satum for help but in the meantime the Aguna department did not advance the investigation. My case was featured in a documentary that was unfortunately not broadcast. As part of the documentary private investigators were appointed and flew overseas to find my husband. The problem was that the investigation was conducted a year after I received the evidence, and it was too late. If the Aguna Division had acted on the information I had given them my case situation would have been resolved .
From the moment we found out that he had fled, I realized that my chances of finding him were slim. Even if I did find him, I was not sure that he would give me a divorce.
Mavoi Satum appealed to the rabbinic High Court in an attempt to annul the marriage. There they were required to make a decision within sixty days, but no decision was handed down. I turned to the Chief Rabbi and asked to meet with him, but I was ignored.
For four to five months no one contacted me, no one talked to my lawyer, and my life remains frozen!
Before I started the process, I knew nothing about what awaited me in the courts. Until you are not involved in the process ,you have no clue what it all means. Before this whole experience I did not even know what an ‘aguna’ was. I thought it was something prehistoric, belonging to ancient times. I did not even know it could happen in this day and age, and to me! And suddenly – it became my life…