Zsa Zsa Gabor once said “you never really know a man until you have divorced him.” After nine husbands, I suppose few could say that with more authority than the actress/ socialite herself.
Well, maybe Gital Dodelson. Gital, a 25 year old law student from New York, earned her expertise on the matter fair and square, through a three-year long struggle to pry the get from her estranged husband’s cruel and controlling hands.
Gital bravely took her story public. She conquered the social and traditional media with her plight… and finally emerged victorious!
As an advocate for women’s rights, especially within the context of Judaism, it was only natural for me to gravitate towards her battle and follow the developments closely. Since first reading her heart-rending story on the front page of the New York Post last fall, I have sat next to her on the emotional rollercoaster and shared her tears and even relished in her triumph.
Still, with the metaphorical chains lifted off Gital, the victory tastes bittersweet.
One woman has been set free, but there remain plenty of others punished for their piety. The exact statistics are unclear- the number of reported agunot (women in chains) vary between 117 and 10,000 around the world. Regardless of the precise number, I believe even one is too many.
Though the tragedy of agunot is a by-product of halacha, and being granted a get in accordance with the ritual of a proper divorce is part of the 613 mitzvot- there remains something so un-Jewish about the entire concept.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I believe through and through that Judaism is a religion that promotes equality between men and women; and especially between husband and wife. The Ketubah (marriage contract) is designed in such a way to promulgate this value. In fact, it even goes as far as to ensure that the woman’s needs, wants and rights are respected through very explicit terms.
So, why is it that when a marriage dissolves into divorce, those Jewish values often evaporate along with it? I can hypothesize that the unilateral framework and chauvinistic nuances that compose the Jewish divorce ritual undermine the typical Yiddishkeit behavior with which we are accustomed to conducting our lives. I would also suspect that the symbolic idea of chains and enslavement impose on us an unbearable level of discomfort - that comes in stark contrast with our ritualistic celebration of freedom.
Un-Jewish behaviors such as vengeance, gossip and rumors are also side effects of the disease known as divorce; and the problem of the agunot is a manifestation of it in its most malignant state.
And yet still, with all that said, I don’t dare propose that we abolish the get entirely because I see its significance as part of the divorce ritual even in this post-feminist era. I recognize the imperative closure it provides to two people preparing to move on with their lives. I also appreciate the fact that the process gives necessary pause - dodging drive-thru divorces ("Happy Meal" not included).
So, how do we conquer the problem of agunot, without compromising our selves and the ritual of divorce?
Strength is in knowledge and knowledge is power. Did you know that the Knesset passed a law in 1995 addressing the problem of Agunot? The Rabbinical Courts Enforcement of Divorce Decrees law imposes severe sanctions on recalcitrant husbands such as suspension of credit cards, passports, driver’s licenses, professional licenses and even prison terms. Men who imprison their women metaphorically are literally imprisoned. Three cheers for the Israeli judicial system!
If retributive justice isn’t your cup of tea however, or you don’t live in Israel, rest assured there are other options for you.
Did you know that in 2006, the Rabbinical Council of America passed a resolution declaring a rabbi should not officiate at a wedding where a proper prenuptial agreement has not been executed. We aren’t talking Zsa Zsa prenups here. These Jewish prenuptial agreements make provisions for possible divorce to avoid any get-refusal. Sure, the conversation of theoretical divorce might not be the most pleasant, nor the most hopeful for an engaged couple - but it is the most responsible and it definitely beats the alternative.
If I could offer my bit of unsolicited advice, as am I wont to do: I recommend you put your superstitions and dreams of fairy tales aside, and whip out your best Mont Blancto to sign that prenup before you walk down the aisle.
But even before you do that, I beg of you and I plead with you to take the time to get to know your beloved and observe their character in as many contexts as you can. Have a major fight and overcome it together.
To hell with Zsa Zsa’s wisdom! What does she know? After all, she got it wrong eight times.
The truth is you only really know a man, when you take the time to know him.
Margaux Chetrit is the founder and president of Three Matches, an international dating agency. Her insights on love and sex are inspired by a career in diplomacy, a panoply of academic degrees and ex-boyfriends. For more of her musings, please visit: www.threematches.com or follow her at www.twitter.com/threematches and www.facebook.com/threematches Margaux Chetrit, M.A. President/ Matchmaker