Advocates for Israel's "chained wives" are hoping that the way to a man's heart truly is through his stomach.
Dov Lipman of the Yesh Atid party proposed a new amendment this week to withhold kosher food from men who refuse to grant their wives a get (religious divorce contract).
In Jewish law, the husband must be the one to authorize the divorce contract. Without a get, a woman is considered an agunah — a “chained” wife. Even if she were to obtain a civil divorce, any religious remarriage would be considered adulterous, and her children would be considered mamzerim — children born out of adulterous relationships.
Remaining observant in prison is usually possible even in American institutions, according to JewsInPrison.com, an online resource for the newly incarcerated. Prisoners can make arrangements with judges to be placed in a religious wing and even have kosher food delivered to the jail.
But in Israel, the rabbinic courts are empowered by the Knesset. When a man refuses to grant his wife a religious divorce; the rabbinic court has the right to impose harsh legal punishments on him. Common punishments include driver’s license revocation and termination of employment.
But these consequences become irrelevant if the husband remains recalcitrant and the rabbinic courts choose to imprison him — another, more severe punishment also backed by the Knesset.
These hard cases “are prepared to stay in prison for a long time.” Lipman’s strategy is to expedite the get-granting process by making incarceration more uncomfortable.
The U.S. federal government does not back American rabbinic courts in the same way that the Knesset empowers Israeli rabbinic courts. In America, when a husband refuses to give his wife a get, the rabbinic courts can only excommunicate him and strongly encourage synagogues and other establishments to exclude him from their membership as well.
Until recently, kosher food in American prison was not even immediately available. In 2013, Florida Department of Corrections inmate Bruce Rich filed a complaint in federal court that the lack of kosher meals in the FDOC violated his right to practice his religion. One year later, the prison was ordered to provide kosher food packaged much like airplane food.