U.S. issues warning to Jews about Israeli religious courts Jurisdiction over visitors asserted in family matters

February 14, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- You have just gone through a bitter divorce and you want to take your mind off it, maybe with a little foreign travel. But if you are Jewish, you might want to rethink that trip to Israel.

According to a warning issued by the State Department, Israel's religious courts have begun asserting jurisdiction in divorce, child custody, child support and other family matters involving Jews who are in the country temporarily, even for a week or two.

The State Department says Americans have been prevented from leaving Israel for substantial periods until their cases are heard. In extreme cases, the courts are authorized to impose jail terms.

"Jewish-American visitors should be aware that they may be subject to involuntary and prolonged stays in Israel if a case is filed against them in a rabbinical court," the State Department said. "This may occur even when the marriage took place in the U.S. and/or the spouse seeking relief is not present in Israel."

The department said the religious courts can entertain divorce cases when a civil divorce already has been granted if one party is dissatisfied with the terms set by the civil court.

Israeli law gives religious authorities -- Christian and Muslim as well as Jewish -- jurisdiction over marriage, divorce, child custody and other "family" matters for all people living in Israel, whether they are citizens or not.

For most of Israel's modern history, religious authorities have not tried to impose their will on tourists. Christian and Muslim groups have not attempted to claim jurisdiction over visitors.

The State Department said: "Americans have been detained in Israel for prolonged periods while the Israeli courts consider whether such individuals have sufficient ties to Israel to establish rabbinical court jurisdiction.

"The rabbinical courts have also detained in the country a Jewish-American tourist who has been sued for [child] support by his spouse in the United States."

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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