Rabbinical court removes children from mother after she 'signs them up for mixed-gender swimming classes'

Maya Oppenheim
Mother and child hand in hand: Rex Features

A rabbinical court in Israel has taken two children from the care of their mother after claims she was not properly complying with observant Jewish practices.

The court in the city of Haifa has granted the father custody despite the fact he has formerly been convicted of violent crimes.

The mother has been barred from seeing her children and is now only allowed to see them in a specific facility.

She told Israeli newspaper Haaretz getting her divorce was dependant on signing a contract which linked child custody to following an observant way of life.

The father claimed she had infringed this pledge due to signing their children up for therapeutic swimming classes which are taught by a woman and have boys and girls present in the lesson, the paper reported.

He also claimed the mother gave the children – who are aged between five and eight – food which was not kosher.

The mother was originally granted guardianship of the children after the pair divorced three years ago – with the rabbinical court deciding they could sleep at their father’s house twice a week.

But the father was then handed custody of the children after he claimed his ex-wife's new partner was staying over at her house.

The situation was effectively reversed and she was allowed to have the children stay at her home on two occasions a week.

But the mother’s right to see her children was then blocked after her former husband alleged she had not been adhering to observant traditions and guidelines back in May.

Social welfare authorities have advised for the children to be in the mother’s custody but the rabbinical courts ultimately have final say on which parent is given child custody across the country.

“The children talk about their father’s violence against them, and particularly toward the older child,” a social worker wrote in an expert opinion presented by the welfare authorities.

The Rabbinical Courts, which are part of the judiciary in the country, predominantly deal with matters which involve children’s visitation rights, divorce, inheritance, conversion and property.

Adam Ognall, chief executive of New Israel Fund UK, told The Independent: “The monopoly of ultra-Orthodox state rabbinical courts on matters of divorce in Israel can lead to situations where religious rulings gain precedence over child welfare recommendations and the rights of women to equal status.

“New Israel Fund is proud to support activists seeking to end this monopoly on civil matters. This is crucial as estimates suggest that 20 per cent of Israeli women have been unable to freely leave their marriage leaving them vulnerable to extortion on matters such as child custody and the division of property.”