How is this for a catch-22? CWJ’s client, Yifat, remarried and gave birth to a son with her husband. She wants her husband, who is the child’s biological father, to be legally recognized as such. If that happens, though, the rabbinate will label the child a mamzer—a child born of a biblically forbidden relationship—and forbid him and his descendants from marrying other Jews. This, despite the fact that Yifat’s marriage and child are 100% in accordance with Jewish law.
How did such an absurd situation come about? Yifat detailed her nightmare of a story (below) in testimony before a special Knesset session on "Issues of Religion and State as a Moral Question."
CWJ is fighting on both the religious and civil front for the right of Yifat—and other Israeli women—to have paternity issues decided in family courts, where paternity can be established without jeopardizing the children’s personal status.
This is Yifat’s testimony:
Six years ago, I decided to separate from my now ex-husband. There were issues we were unable to resolve, despite visiting multiple marriage counselors. He claimed to not want to get divorced, but did not change in his behavior towards me. I was tired. I had had enough, and I wanted out. I felt strong after I had made the decision once and for all. I asked him for a divorce.
He told me that he would not give me a get (Jewish bill of divorce) because he thought we weren't done for good. He thought I would change my mind and we would live happily ever after. At that point, he was leaving in a week for New York, on a one-way ticket. I was scared that he was going to leave and not come back; I was scared he was going to leave me an agunah (a woman chained to a dead marriage). I begged him for a divorce.
He "magnanimously" told me that he wouldn't give me a get in the rabbinate (official state rabbinic court), but he would give me a get in a private bet din (rabbinic court). To this day, I do not know what his reasoning was - did he know that by not giving me a get in the rabbinate he would be able to continue to haunt my life? Did he think that giving me a get through a private bet din would make me less kosher to date and eventually get remarried? Like I said, to this day I do not understand his reasoning. But I thank God that he did agree to give me a get through a private rabbinate, because if he hadn't, I might have been an agunah six years later.
The ceremony was led by a hareidi rabbi from the Old City, with kosher witnesses, a sofer(ritual scribe), the whole ceremony, 100% halachikally kosher. It was emotional and painful, and I mourned for what I once thought could have been, but mostly what I felt was relief.
Time passed. I was a single mother to my daughter; we established a routine. I tried going to the Ministry of Interior to get my ex-husband's name taken off my identity card, but they refused, saying they needed a certificate from the rabbinate. I begged my ex-husband, who was back in Israel by then, to give me a rabbinate get so I could go on with my life, from a bureaucratic standpoint. He agreed – IF I agreed to give up custody of our daughter and other extortionary financial conditions. Needless to say, those terms were unacceptable, and I went on with my life – because I knew that even if the rabbinate and the state did not register my divorce, it was a kosher, halakhic divorce.
Eventually I met and started dating someone. A year and a half after our first date, we got married. Now, obviously, we could not get married through the rabbinate – because according to the rabbinate and the state, I was still married to my ex-husband. So we got married privately, with a rabbi, and huppa and kiddushin – a halakhically valid and kosher wedding. Ten months later, we welcomed our son, Yehuda.
Imagine this scene if you can: I had just given birth a few hours earlier. I am exhausted, I am sore, I am overjoyed, I keep crying for no reason. In short, I am feeling all the emotions.
So a few hours after I give birth, I leave my husband with our new baby in the hospital room and I go downstairs to where the nurse tells me I need to register my new baby and get a birth certificate. The man behind the desk asks me for my identity card so he can begin filling in the birth certificate. I give it to him, and I see him filling in the lines where it says "mother" and "father." I stop him when I see he is writing down my ex-husbands name.
"That is NOT his father; you cannot write that name down."
"But it says here, on your identity card, that Yaakov is your husband."
"Yaakov is NOT my husband. Yaakov is NOT his father. His father's name is–" and I start to give him my husband's name, but he waves me off.
"Why is this complicated? It's simple. It says here that you are married. It says your husband's name is Yaakov. How are you telling me that he is not the father of the baby you just had?"
At this point, I'm just crying, the messy kind of post-baby crying you do when an official in a position of power is insisting on listing your ex-husband as the father of the child you conceived out of a healthy, loving relationship with your husband. I convinced him not to write down my ex-husband's name, but he refused to write down my husband's name, and wrote “lo yadua” (Hebrew for “unknown"). Lo yadua–as if I don't know who my baby's father is.
Having Yaakov on my identity card has led to enormous complications, bureaucratically speaking. I have to list him as my husband when I fill out my income tax declaration form for work. I wasn't able to prove to anyone I was divorced in order to get benefits when I was a single mother. But forget that. The biggest complications are in regards to my son, Yehuda, who is considered a mamzer in the eyes of the rabbinate, and in the eyes of the state, even though I know, as a Jew practicing halakhic Judaism, that he is 100% not a mamzer. My husband, Yehuda’s father, is not recognized as his father in the eyes of the state and therefore has no legal rights as his guardian, including something as simple as taking him to the doctor when he is sick.
I am incredibly grateful that after 6 years of bureaucratic hell, the Center for Women’s Justice is helping me to sort through all these issues, both in the rabbinate as well as in the civil courts.
CWJ would like to thank our generous supporters: David Berg Foundation, Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches, Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, 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.