Remember CWJ client Yifat, who shared her storyin the Knesset in December? Yifat had divorced, remarried and given birth to a son all in accordance with strict Jewish law. The state, however, would not recognize her husband as the baby's biological father without labeling the baby a mamzer—a child born of a mother's adulterous relationship. (This status prohibits the baby and his descendants from ever marrying other Jews.)
Why? Yifat's divorce ceremony had been conducted by a private, ultra-orthodox rabbinic court. Since the Israeli Rabbinic Court has a monopoly over issues of personal status, they refused to recognize her divorce. Thus, absurdly, she was considered legally married to her ex-husband while her son was considered the product of her "adultery"!
It seemed that Yifat would have to choose between her baby's civil rights and her husband's paternal rights: if her husband was legally recognized as the baby's father, the baby would be labeled a mamzer and suffer diminished civil rights; if she wanted to preserve her son's civil rights, it would come at the cost of depriving her husband of paternal rights to his own biological son.
This is where CWJ stepped in to say: Enough. After months of strategic, hard work, Yifat's divorce from her ex-husband is now recognized by Israel's rabbinic court! Not only that, we convinced the rabbinic court to approve her divorce retroactively, backdated from the date of the couple's actual get ceremony five years ago. This means that Yifat's son from her second marriage no longer carries the risk of mamzerut.
CWJ attorney Nitzan Caspi-Shiloni adds: “Lest you think the rabbinic court is the hero of this story, keep in mind that this entire saga is the direct byproduct of the imbalance of power between men and women in Israel's divorce system and rabbinic courts.” Because Yifat’s ex-husband threatened to leave her a chained woman and restrict her rights if she did not acquiesce to his demands—a threat with real teeth enabled by unfair divorce law in Israel—Yifat agreed to conduct her divorce in a way that was detrimental to her own interests. This decision, made under duress, brought with it a host of other issues that eventually snowballed into severe limitations on her rights, and those of her second husband and their new baby.
Once the rabbinic court case had been resolved, the battle continued in civil court, where we successfully secured paternal rights for Yifat's husband. Now, Yifat can breathe lighter knowing that her son's status is secure and that her husband is finally recognized as her son's true biological father.
The involvement of the civil court played a key role in achieving the outcome Yifat needed. We have no doubt that the civil court's preparedness to hear Yifat's paternity case served as the catalyst that forced the rabbinic court to resolve her divorce case favorably. Our strategy - using civil action to address religious injustice - creates welcome accountability in an environment where the rabbinic establishment is used to wielding unchecked power. With the rabbinate looking over its shoulder, fewer cases of injustice can slip through the cracks, ensuring better treatment of women and children under its purview.
CWJ will continue to fight on both religious and civil fronts for legal paternity to be established without jeopardizing children's rights.
CWJ's legal achievements are accomplished with the help of our generous supporters:the David Berg Foundation, Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches, Levi Lassen Foundation, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and the Kathryn Ames Foundation, as well as donors whose general support provides a secure foundation for advancing our critical legal work. Their commitment makes possible cutting-edge legal advocacy, which helps secure the rights, equality and freedoms of Israeli women confronting rabbinic court injustices.