Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Israeli Rabbinical Judges Immune In State Court At Suggestion of State Department

In Ben-Hiam v. Edri, (NJ App., Feb. 5, 2018), a New Jersey appellate court held that a State Department "suggestion of immunity" in a suit against foreign officials is binding on New Jersey courts when the State Department has found that the foreign officials were acting within the scope of their authority for a foreign sovereign.  At issue is a suit brought in New Jersey against six Israeli rabbinical judges and an official of the Rabbinical Religious Courts Administration of Israel.  The suit grew out of a divorce and child custody dispute filed in Israeli courts by a couple who lived in New Jersey, but were Israeli citizens who were married in Israel and had traveled to Israel when the divorce action was filed.  While the Israeli litigation was pending, the husband (plaintiff in this case) returned to the United States.  Competing custody rulings for the couple's daughter were issued in the U.S. and Israel. The Israeli rabbinical court awarded custody of the daughter to the mother, but was unable to grant a divorce because the husband refused to grant the wife a get (Jewish divorce document).

What happened next is explained by the New Jersey court:
Israeli law gives rabbinical courts the authority to issue certain sanctions to pressure a nonconsenting spouse to give consent to a get. Accordingly, to compel plaintiff to consent to the get, the rabbinical court issued a series of escalating sanctions against plaintiff. Ultimately, the rabbinical court issued an order finding that under Jewish law, plaintiff's refusal was criminal and that Jewish persons must avoid dealing with plaintiff. That rabbinical court order was sent to plaintiff's rabbi in New Jersey, and was published on several websites.
In April 2015, plaintiff filed a civil complaint ... in New Jersey. Specifically, plaintiff contended that defendants aided and abetted in the kidnapping of his daughter, defamed him, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him.