Obviously this isn’t fun for those going through the process but for us outside observers it is rather amusing – it’s the remnants of Ottoman Empire law which determine the status of the (ex-) wives of those Israelis who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash of that Boeing 737. This really isn’t how we’d think of such things in this modern world. The Ottoman Empire died in 1920 or so, it stopped ruling what is now Israel about then but the law, in its majesty, keeps rolling along.
More specifically it’s the system of organising the law from that time and Empire which still rolls along. Which leads to this:
Rabbis to clarify marital status of Israeli Ethiopia plane crash victims’ wives
Rabbinical court ordered by Sephardi chief rabbi to prove that the men were passengers and died in the March crash so their wives can remarry
Yes, yes, obviously, no one thinks those (ex-) wives wish to remarry quite so soon.
A special rabbinical court has been set up in Israel to determine the marital status of the wives of two Israeli men who died in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane. The court ordered by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef must prove conclusively that the men got on the plane and died in the crash on March 10 near Addis Ababa, The Jerusalem Post reported. Without such proof, the women will remain agunot, or chained wives, who are prevented from remarrying.
In most places in the world the Ethiopian authorities will issue a death certificate and that will be that. We’ve an official death certificate, you’re a widow, sorry and all that. This would be true even for Sephardi Jewish wives in, say, England. That is, it would be by the standards of the English law. Which is what the governing law and jurisdiction is. Of course, some might voluntarily subject themselves to further restrictions. It’s not unusual in some cultures for widows never to remarry just on the basis that widows don’t remarry. And there haven been cases in English law where a woman is legally divorced but not under certain interpretations of Rabbinical. At which point it’s up to the people concerned as to whether they desire to care about Rabbinical law or not, the law of the land is certain.
But not in Israel:
Marriages in Israel can be performed only under the auspices of the religious community to which couples belong, and no religious intermarriages can be performed legally in Israel. Matrimonial law is based on the Millet or confessional community system employed in the Ottoman Empire, which was not modified during the British Mandate and remains in force in the State of Israel. In addition to the respective faiths of Jewish, Muslim and Druze communities in Israel, Israel recognizes ten distinct denominations of Christianity. Marriages in each community are under the jurisdiction of their own religious authorities. The religious authority for Jewish marriages performed in Israel is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical courts. The Israeli Interior Ministry registers marriages on presentation of proper documentation. Israel’s religious authorities — the only entities authorized to perform weddings in Israel — are prohibited from marrying couples unless both partners share the same religion.
That maintenance of the Millet system means that marriage law is entirely under the control of the varied and respective religious authorities. Thus it is the Rabbi who decides whether these women are widows or not, not the State, nor something so simple as the production of a death certificate. All of which I find fascinating.
Now, we could now decry this as disgusting religious overhangs, even remnants of colonial law. Both of which are entirely true of course even if not the disgusting. But there is one great joy in all that Talmud stuff – it’s logical and open to reasoned argument. So, the present status is that they’re only widows if it’s really proven, to the satisfaction of that Rabbinical court, that the husbands really are dead. A mere piece of paper from Ethiopia isn’t going to be enough.
But, reason and logic. As soon as the children start demanding their inheritances. Or the State of Israel issues probate. Or demands inheritance tax perhaps. There will be other things which are taken as that needed proof of the death and therefore the widowed status. Just as with other forms of law – well, to be honest, much more than other forms – Rabbinical law might grind small and slowly but it has that saving grace it, as above, being open to reason and logic too.