Domestic Violence And Israel's Sexist, Orthodox-Driven Divorce Law

Israel's sexist family law is bent to demands of the country's Orthodox community, including divorce requiring the man's consent. But what if the husband is violent?

A man in Israel holds all the cards when it comes to divorce
A man in Israel holds all the cards when it comes to divorce

JERUSALEM — "Past events." The expression seems neutral, factual, distant. But for S., the words — as they appear in the religious divorce documents granted her by the rabbinical court in Jerusalem — are excruciating. The "past events' refer to violence, specifically sexual, of which the young Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman accused her husband. The woman was his victim until their official separation in February 2016.

Jewish law holds that a husband's consent is necessary for the divorce to proceed, even if the court can compel him to grant it, under threat of imprisonment. In the case of S., whose identity is protected, her husband only agreed to offer consent on one condition that was approved by the rabbinical court: His wife had to withdraw all criminal complaints she had filed against him. Her freedom in exchange for immunity for a violent man.

The victim claims that the rabbi who presided over the court strongly encouraged both her and her lawyer at the time not to change a single term of the agreement, not to question it. The judges also asked that she end the parallel civil divorce proceedings, invoking the superiority of Halakha (Jewish law).

S., 30, is a mother to two children. She lives in a city in the middle of Israel. It's impossible to be more specific, because she's afraid of backlash in her very conservative community. After her divorce, she took refuge at her mother's house. She worked as a psychotherapist for children with learning disabilities.

S. agreed to the non-disclosure agreement that the court imposed because her priority was to finally break the chains that tied her to her ex-husband — a "sick man," in her words. But when the NGO Mavoi Satum learned about the conditions of her separation, the team encouraged S. to contest the rabbis strategy.

Lead weight

Mavoi Satum has fought for years to defend the rights of women whose husbands refuse to divorce them. And because there's a religious monopoly on the procedure — as is also the case for marriage and conversion to Judaism — the problem isn't limited to ultra-Orthodox couples. Civil courts, in the end, only decide child custody and division of property.

All in all, the NGO handles about 200 cases, for both non-religious people and haredim (Haredi people). Batya Kahana-Dror, the director of Mavoi Satum, leads the fight both in court and in the political arena, trying to convince politicians to change the legislation. Recently, she announced her candidacy for minister of justice, with the goal of becoming the director general of Rabbinical Courts and changing the system from the inside out.

A lawyer by trade, Kahana-Dror wants to simultaneously fight for women's rights and attack the lead weight that continues to hang heavy in Haredi communities on the subject of intrafamilial violence or rape. Already, though, these communities have started to slowly open over the past few years, the NGO director believes.

"Society as a whole is changing and becoming more liberal," she says. "The problem comes from the fact that certain religious courts are radicalizing, since they believe in the longevity of Jewish law and that of the traditional family. They don't understand anything about modern society."

Chained women

S."s court-certified divorce papers are a case in point, according to Kahana-Dror. Which is why the lawyer decided to contest them by approaching the general prosecutor and demanding that he open an inquest against the judges.

"What the rabbinical court did was completely illegal and goes against the penal code in criminal matters," she explains. "The young woman never reported the domestic violence to the police because she was so scared. She was afraid of becoming an agunah" — a "chained woman," meaning a wife whose husband refuses to divorce them.

In November 2016, in a directive signifying a clear policy shift, state prosecutor Shaï Nitzan threatened to imprison men who obstruct divorce proceedings. "An individual who refuses to agree to a divorce harms the fundamental liberties and rights of his wife, such as her right to remarry, her right to have children that aren't considered bastards," the order reads.

Observers are already looking at a particular case where the directive could apply. For 17 years, even though he has been incarcerated, Zvia Gordetsky's husband has refused to divorce her, despite a court order to do so. Because of that, he could now face additional criminal proceedings.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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