A secular man separated from his Orthodox wife is not required to maintain a religious lifestyle while the couple's children are at his home, the Haifa Family Court ruled on Monday. In her ruling, Judge Esperanza Alon threw out a clause of the couple's custody agreement that required the father not to drive his children on Saturday, one of the days they stay with him.
Alon ruled that this clause infringed on the father's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The mother, who is a physician, lives in Jerusalem with the couple's two children, while the father, also a physician, lives in the north. Even before the couple split up about a year ago, they argued over matters of religious observance. About six months ago, the father sought to extend the children's visits at his home, which the mother opposed because she said he would not provide the type of religious education for the children that she did in her home.
She told the court she thought this would cause the children suffering, confusion and frustration.
To underscore her claims she presented to the court the report of a private investigator she had hired, who reported that the father drove the children on Saturday and that the boy removes his skullcap and ritual fringes during his visits to his father's home.
The mother told the court the father was hurting the children's religious lifestyle, while the father said he was listening to what the children wanted, and that the mother's demands constituted religious coercion.
"Married couples sometimes conduct lifestyles that differ from one another, and the children absorb both worlds. It is the right of each of the parents to freedom of religion or from religion, and the right of each of them to equality," Alon said.
The judge also noted that the mother had hired a private detective to work on the Sabbath to obtain the evidence that proves that the father was breaking the Sabbath laws. "It was my impression that the mother also has a religious world that does not not adhere to all the strictly Orthodox definitions." Alon wrote that it seemed to her that the children had grown up with this religious complexity, "and I therefore assume that the children have the emotional strength to deal with the differences in the lifestyles of the two parents."