Florida Anti-Sharia Legislation May Outlaw Orthodox Jewish Divorces


Written by Eli Clifton

A Florida Senate panel’s hurried decision last week to pass a measure banning the use of Sharia law may, in practice, serve to prevent Orthodox Jewish couples from using Jewish religious courts to arbitrate their divorces.

The bill, the Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases, is likely to pass the Florida Senate and, according to The Jewish Daily Foward’s Paul Berger, Florida Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill into law.

The language of the bill is largely modeled after a wave of legislation targeting Sharia, traditional Islamic law, that has swept the country in recent years as part of an organized Islamophobia campaign, detailed in the Center for American Progress’s report Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network In America. But the Florida bill — styled on model legislation drafted by David Yerushalmi, an Orthodox Jew who lives in New York — may have the unintended consequence of severely limiting the ability of Orthodox Jews to employ arbitration from Jewish religious courts in divorces.

The Florida bill states that arbitration is unenforceable if a tribunal bases its ruling on a “foreign law, legal code or system” that does not give people the same rights as Florida or U.S. Constitutions. Speaking to The Forward, Anti-Defamation League attorney David Barkey warns that the bill will affect Jews seeking divorces in accordance with rabbinical courts.

Barkey explains that because only a man can grant his wife a Jewish divorce, rabbinical courts could be seen as violating state and federal equal protection principles. “Any abritration or ruling based on such a law is, per se, invalid,” said Barkey. Orthodox couples frequently arbitrate divorces in accordance with rabbincal courts and, after agreeing to the terms of their divorce, petition a civil court to make the ruling a binding judgement.

Islamic and Jewish groups, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, challenge that the bill targets Islam, but the bill’s sponsors insist that’s not true. Both the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization Agudath Israel of America have vowed to fight the bill.

“The notion that secular judges are being asked to decide whether religious law does or does not conform with ‘fundamental liberties’ is an intrusion on religious freedom and could be a dangerous precedent for more far-ranging efforts in the future that might well impact our community,” warned Agudath’s vice president, Rabbi David Zwiebel.

The American Jewish Council’s general counsel, Marc Stern, slammed the bill as “all smoke and mirrors” in an interview with The Forward. “It’s a trap for the unwary and nothing more. But I know it will be seen as another great victory in suppressing extremist Islam,” said Stern. “It’s nothing of the sort.”

This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.


Related Stories:

Judge Dismisses Muslim Who Attacked “Zombie Muhammad”

Appeals Court Strikes Oklahoma’s Sharia Ban

Poll: “Islam Is Incompatible With American Values” Say 2/3 of Republicans, Tea Partiers, Fox News Viewers


Photo from zeevveez via flickr


Sheleen Addison
Sheleen Addison5 years ago

Perhaps it depends on what you want to believe in

Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ patricia and edw…”its PRINCIPLES still apply and are the foundation of life - regardless of race, colour or creed.” Which PRINCIPLES would that be ? Abortion and homo marriage ? Or are those just values. Do you mean the OLD or the New Testament ?
@ Carolyn M. There should be NO religiously based law permitted to over ride secular law. It was bad enough when fewer countries had secular law.

Stefanie D.
Stefanie D.5 years ago

Nations where such Sharia laws were created and still exist and persist, such laws must be seen as unacceptable forms of cultural 'contraband', forbidden from being imported into nations that do not have them, and must be CONFISCATED from ENTRY because it is both counter to and offensive to, the HOST Nation that does not have it in the first place. We must leave such cultural POISON, out of our Sharia Free Nations. We know what we SEE when it is as clear as DAY.

Tommy S.
Tommy S5 years ago

well said Rob and J
It amazes me that there are still dunderheads who think sharia in any form is compatible with western values
As old mo himself said
Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are prisoners with you having no control- of their persons.
Treat women well, for they are [like] domestic animals (‘awan) with you and do not possess anything for themselves.

I think the clue is in the "prisoners" and "domestic animals" but then many on this thread are not bright enough to understand that-- rather revelling in their opinions on something they know nothing about

Alice H.
Alice H5 years ago

We are all ready protected from Sharia law. We have freedom of and from religion.

Our laws generally allow people to mediate an agreement -- divorce or whatever -- as they see fit, and then to enforce their agreement. This would not force me to accept a divorce agreement based on Islamic or Orthodox Jewish principles.

patrica and edw jones

P.S Jane B - you are also pretty ignorant.

patrica and edw jones

Jane B - pray tell where Jesus condemned rape victims as sinners. I think you are way off the mark there.....but am interested to know where this is mentioned in the New Testament. Regardless of whether you are for the Bible et al or not, its PRINCIPLES still apply and are the foundation of life - regardless of race, colour or creed.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

The BuyBull is an atrocious holy book of horrors replete with women hatred throughout. Even
Jesus called rape victims "sinners". There is so much bloody violence and bigotry in it that
it should be branded pornographic. That anybody in this day and age worships this 2,000 year old history book and dies in the name of it displays total ignorance. Indeed, no woman should ever be a member of this cult or a Republican.

Gali Yonvadisi
Gali Yonvadisi5 years ago

Remember the old saying "don't trust anyone over 30"?

The new saying needs to be "don't trust anyone who bases their morality on the bronze age god of abraham and/or his supposed demigod son."

"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (I Corinthians 11:3)

"For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." (I Corinthians 11:8-9)

"Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (I Timothy 2:11-14)

No woman who has a brain, should be a member of such a religion or a republican. Nor should any man who loves and cares about women.

alice Johnson
alice J5 years ago

Right. As I see it, Jewish Orthodox law regarding marriage and divorce requires arbitration that both parties agree to adhere to. And, I think, Sharia law is basically the same.
So no, the government cannot enforce Jewish law or Islamic law - that's not the point, right? It's that the two parties in a divorce have agreed on the terms due to arbitration with religious ministers or leaders, and all the divorce court needs to do is to hear what conclusion they came to, and enforce that. If either of the two parties does NOT agree, there is nothing to enforce - it's back to arbitration again. The divorce court judge will probably require them to work at a mutual decision, but that judge will not tell them how or with whom to do it.

Or, the two parties can get divorced the way many Christians do - argue in court in front of the judge. Anyone can have that kind of marriage / divorce, regardless of religion.

And I don't get it when people say they are afraid that they'll be forced to obey religious law. What I'M afraid of is that these 'christians' will try to make ME obey christian law.