Sara Murray, a U.S.-born woman living in Israel with joint U.S.-Israeli citizenship, was denied custody of her children by a rabbinical court in Israel when she divorced her ultra-Orthodox Haredi husband. Murray says her children, now aged 8 through 18, refuse to eat the food she brings them, the clothes and gifts she buys them, and that her 8-year-old son recently told her that when the Messiah comes she will perish. She believes they’ve been poisoned against her by the adults of the Haredi community, a notoriously conservative community that used to make women ride in the backs of buses, until a 2011 legal challenge forced an end to the practice.
For Jewish people to be legally married in Israel, they must do so within the rabbinical, not civil, courts. This applies to all Israelis, religious or not, and as a result about 17 percent of Israelis marry outside of Israel. These religious laws, closer to Sharia then Westernized civil laws, also apply to divorce. In order for a divorce to be recognized, it requires the consent, or “get,” of the husband. Without that consent, a woman technically remains married under religious law. When Murray decided she wanted to leave the Haredi, and her husband, she was allowed the get, but the Rabbinical court refused her custody and denied her access to her children for more than a few hours at a time. Activists say the rabbinical courts have clear bias in divorce cases against non-religious parents.
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