The figure soaring above the United States Congress, symbolizing liberty, is
that of a woman.
The monumental Statue of Freedom serves as a reminder to
all who enter the Houses of Congress that freedom is fragile and elusive, and
must be protected by each individual as she herself protects them.
particularly elusive there, for in those hallowed halls works a US citizen,
himself a lawyer, who is capitalizing on his ability and power to deny another
persons basic human rights.
Mr. Aharon Jeffrey Eric Friedman, a member of
US Congressman Dave Camp’s staff (Michigan, fourth district; Chairman of the
Ways and Means Committee), is refusing to grant 28-year-old Tamar Epstein a
Jewish writ of divorce – a get. Although a US civil court divorce has decreed
the marriage over, Mr. Friedman has not removed all obstacles to remarriage from
his ex-wife’s path.
Years ago, in the very act of creating a Jewish
marriage, Mr. Friedman made a promise to his bride. He stated, “Behold, you are
consecrated unto me in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel.”
he has broken that promise. For a rabbinical court, too, has ruled that he must
give his former wife a get. But although that body has the authority to
determine “the laws of Israel,” Mr. Friedman has not complied. By failing to
adhere to their ruling, he has broken his promise and turned Ms. Epstein into an
agunah (chained woman).
IS THIS a matter of separation of church and
state? Apparently the US State Department thinks not. The US government itself –
the very guardian of separation of church and state, has deemed that creating an
agunah, i.e. refusing a get, is a violation of human rights.
the United States’ attitude is based upon the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, which the US presumably
is bound to uphold.
In Article 16 it states: “Men and women of full age,
without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to
marry and to found a family.
They are entitled to equal rights as to
marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”
The US respects the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So much so that the US State Department
abides by it by chiding other countries for violations.
A quick look at
the US State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report: Israel and the Occupied
Territories (Section 6: Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in
Persons ) demonstrates that the State of Israel is taken to task for not
disallowing the creation of agunot: “A Jewish woman is allowed to initiate
divorce proceedings, but her husband must give his consent to make the divorce
final. Because some men disappear or refuse to grant the divorce, thousands of
so-called ‘agunot’... may not remarry or give birth to legitimate children.
Rabbinical tribunals may, and sometimes did, sanction a husband who refused
divorce but still did not grant a divorce without his consent.”
United States government has found that this state of affairs constitutes a
violation of human rights.
This situation exists in the United States as
well as in Israel. In fact, one of these men passes under the Statue of Freedom
as he goes to work. The representatives of the US government should recognize
the abuse of human rights even if it takes place in their own
Inscribed at Lady Freedom’s feet is the dictum E Pluribus Unum –
“Out of many, one.” The words originally alluded to the union of the first 13
states into the federal government, but they can be interpreted in a timeless
manner, representing unity among the peoples of the United States. This national
motto appears in the seals of the highest offices of all three branches of
In a democracy composed of individuals, all defend the rights
of others. All for one and one for all, if you will. Conversely, Mr. Friedman, a
representative of the law, continues to deny Ms. Epstein the Declaration of
Independence’s stated inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness. So Lady Freedom weeps, decrying the injustice embodied by one who walks the halls of the
building which forms the base of her existence.
Mr. Friedman should keep
his promise. Mr. Friedman should heed all those who decry his abuse of power.
Mr. Friedman should reinstate Ms. Epstein’s inalienable right to pursue
happiness. Mr. Friedman should end his gross violation of her human right to a
full dissolution of their marriage. Mr. Friedman should give Ms. Epstein a
Then, and only then, can Lady Freedom dry her tears, rise to her
full stature and stand proudly at the pinnacle of democracy.
is a Rabbinical Court Advocate and coordinator of the Agunah & Get-Refusal
Prevention Project of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis & the Jewish
Agency. She is also the author of
Minee Einayich MeDim’ah on prenuptial
agreements for the prevention of get-refusal.