Forced divorce for rape victim spurs womens anger

According to the Yediot Achronot newspaper, the woman was assaulted by three foreign workers, gagged and dragged to an empty courtyard where she was gang-raped.

She reportedly told her husband what had happened. As is customary among the charedi, or fervently religious, the couple refrained from reporting the crime to police.

According to Jewish law, if a woman is raped, tells her husband and the husband utters disbelief, the couple can stay married. If he fails to do so, however, they must divorce, as the woman would be deemed disloyal.

Instead of telling his wife, "I don't believe you," the victim's husband telephoned various religious functionaries to consult them, little realizing that in so doing he was in fact admitting that he believed his wife's story.

Consequently, a number of rabbis and halachic authorities informed the husband a few days later that he must divorce his wife immediately, despite the couple's love for each other and their desire to stay married and provide for their children.

The rabbis refused to compromise despite the husband's protests, especially since the husband is a Cohen, or a member of the ancient Jewish priesthood, which they said calls for even stricter interpretations of the law.

Friedman's organization has sought to petition in the couple's name to the High Court of Justice against the forced divorce.

"It's a blatant case of violation of basic rights and human dignity and freedom," Friedman said.

She noted that since the couple is fervently religious it is not certain that they would seek help from outside their community, in the event of an emergency like rape. In any case, she demanded that a humanitarian solution be found to enable the family to stay together.

The Israel Women's Network also reacted with shock and fury.

"It's high time to take marriage and divorce procedures out of rabbinical hands and introduce civil marriage," attorney Rivka Meller-Olshitzky said. "We are, after all, in the 21st century. The temple and priests have disappeared thousands of years ago. Yet still they're forcing this old halachic ruling on the year 2000.

"They're always full of high-blown platitudes of how humane Jewish law is and how respectful of women, yet what they are doing here is the most inhumane thing possible."

Meller-Olshitzky stressed that the ruling was not "a divine decree, as the rabbis are making out, but merely one possible interpretation."

Former Religious Affairs Minister Uzi Baram of the Labor party said this incident could contribute to widening a rift between religious and secular communities.

The incident, Baram said, "deals a blow to those secular people who believe it is possible to bridge contradictions with the rabbinical world."