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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wife Invokes Jewish Order To Get Husband Shunned

LONDON -- In David vs. David, Rachel wears power suits and sells high-tech medical equipment. Moses is a computer programmer.


Theirs is a 1990s divorce, but with an ancient twist: Their most potent weapons have been plucked from the weathered pages of Jewish law.


Rachel David, 30, acting through the British rabbinate, won a rare order against her recalcitrant husband: Until he grants her a religious divorce, no observant Jew may speak to him or come within 6 meters of him.


The order, called a "nidui,'' could have an impact throughout the Jewish world, where women's groups are increasingly pressuring religious authorities to do more to help women like Rachel.


"This sends out an important message for other recalcitrant husbands,'' said Blu Greenberg, an American feminist campaigner for women's rights within Jewish law, speaking from New York.


Rabbi Berel Berkovits, the religious judge behind the nidui, said: "It's having a powerful effect. It's depriving him of his social freedom, and he's sensitive to that.''


Moses David, contacted recently by phone, said only that he was outraged by the order but would not comment further.


His reaction pleases Rachel, who said since the nidui, her husband has taken action to renew negotiations that might lead to a settlement including a divorce. "This is hurting him. He's the sort of person who likes to be welcomed into people's homes,'' she said.


The nidui was a response in kind to the equally ancient punishment that Moses imposed on his wife. Although he initiated their civil divorce after she left him, he refused to assent to a "get,'' a religious divorce.


For younger wives who remarry in civil ceremonies, not receiving a get can be devastating. Ancient rabbinical laws dictate that the children of their second marriage are "mamzers'' -- bastards shunned by the Jewish community.


The same is not true of children fathered by Jewish men who remarry in civil ceremonies, as long as those offspring are born to Jewish women. That has offered men in many Jewish communities a relatively painless way to harass or pressure former spouses.


The Davids married in 1983 when Rachel was 17 and he was 30, then separated in 1991. Rachel cited abuse and took their three children.


Moses was convicted of assaulting his wife after the separation and was given a suspended sentence in 1994.


The religious judge who handled their case, Pinchas Toledano, admits he did little for Rachel, arguing that Jewish law left him no choice. He derides Rachel as an "actress'' for going to the news media.


"The husband creates the union, saying, 'Thou art wedded unto me by this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel,'" Toledano said. "The wife is passive. That's the law.''


Like thousands of other women in the same position -- called "agunot,'' or chained women -- Rachel faced an uncomfortable choice: Abandon prospects of remarriage, or abandon Judaism.


"Judaism is my life," she said. "I observe all the commandments, I keep the Sabbath and eat kosher food, and it's important that my children do, too. I won't run away just because I have problems."


Mrs. David sought a shunning order after hearing that rabbis belonging to small ultra-Orthodox sects in New York had used the nidui. Rebuffed by Toledano, she approached Berkovits, who is higher in the hierarchy.


Already under pressure from Jewish women's groups to find creative solutions to the divorce dilemma, Berkovits saw the nidui as an answer. The mainstream Orthodox rabbi persuaded his colleagues to issue the order in January.


"We knew it would have repercussions throughout the community," he said.