Battered Women's Choice: Subsidized Housing Or Divorce
Two organizations are working to push through legislation protecting battered women from having to choose between staying with an abusive husband or giving up their right to public housing.
By Dana Weiler-Polak
According to a rabbinical court ruling, battered women who seek refuge at shelters lose their rights to public housing. The ruling contravenes regulations codified by the Housing Ministry.
Housing Ministry bylaws stipulate that the rights to a publicly provided housing unit would always be awarded to the spouse who gains custody over most of the children in the household. In cases in which each spouse has custody over the same number of children, the rights must decided by the couple.
The ministry even went so far as to declare that it would not recognize cases in which the woman gained custody of more children and willingly relinquished her rights to the apartment as part of the divorce settlement.
But rabbinical courts did accept women's renunciations of their rights to public housing, despite the fact that in most cases women do so as a condition for receiving a get from their spouse.
A new bill authored jointly by Bar-Ilan University's Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status and the feminist group Yad L'Isha would allow women to leave a violent household without the fear of losing public housing. The bill, which was sponsored by Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham Balila, will be brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday. Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
An instance in which each parents receives custody over the same number of children would be referred to a blue-ribbon panel that would determine which spouse is entitled to stay in the home. The bill also calls for guaranteed rights to women who leave home for a battered women's shelter.
A life of fear
R. has been married to a physically abusive husband for 33 years. They both live in public housing.
"I sleep with the door locked at night out of fear that he will go crazy and hurt me," she said. "This is not a life worth living, and when I went to the rabbinical court after 10 years of marriage, they refused to obligate him to grant a get. He conditioned the get on me leaving the apartment in which we live, and I refused, because I'm the custodial parent. But it didn't matter to [the rabbinical court]."
R. sought help from a battered women's shelter, but was ultimately forced to return home, for fear of losing her rights, she said.
"While there are clear guidelines which state that whoever stays with the children in the apartment gets the apartment, in every case that we come across the husband conditions a divorce on the woman renouncing her right to the apartment while the rabbinical court supports him," said Batsheva Sherman, an attorney who serves as director of Yad L'Isha and who represents women who are refused a divorce. "This demand is illegal."
A spokesperson for the rabbinical court said in response: "We are not aware of these instances. In any event, we do not get involved in judicial decisions."