Having been denied her freedom for 17 years by her husband, Tzviah Gordetski has gone on hunger strike outside the Knesset to make her plight known to the country’s lawmakers whom she faults for failing to find a solution for her many years of captivity to her husband’s vengeful behaviour.
Gordetski, a religious woman now aged 53, made aliyah to Israel from the Ukraine with her husband in the 1990s, and bore four children during their marriage.
After nine years in Israel, the marriage broke down and she requested a divorce from her husband but he flatly refused.
With unusual alacrity the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court ruled that the husband was obligated to give a bill of divorce, and following his ongoing refusal to grant it sentenced him to prison until he did so.
He entered prison in the year 2000 and for the last 16 and a half years has stubbornly refused to grant his wife a divorce, according to Gordetski to take revenge on her for asking for a divorce in the first place.
A divorce is only valid in Jewish law if both partners willingly accede to it, and Gordetski is therefore chained to her marriage until her husband consents to a divorce.
Having suffered for so long, Gordetski decided to go on hunger strike last Wednesday to bring about awareness of her plight and that of other women denied a divorce, as well as to promote legislation which will be voted on in Knesset this Wednesday to allow the state to annul a marriage in a situation such as hers.
She has not eaten anything since last Wednesday but has been drinking since Sunday. The bill, which has been introduced by Zionist Union MK Yael Paran Cohen, is based on a solution backed only by a very small number of Orthodox rabbis and is therefore very unlikely to be approved.
Gordetski herself will be present in the visitors gallery during the debate on the bill.
“I don’t understand how in 2017 there can be a situation in which the law can permit women to be harmed so greatly and allow our freedom to be denied,” she told The Jerusalem Post
“I can’t wait any longer, the system has trampled on me, I have been an agunah 17 years and I need my freedom now.”
Gordetski said that when she first filed for divorce she was just 36 years old and wanted to remarry and “bring more children into the world.”
She is no longer able to have children, but said she still wishes to find a new partner and had opportunities in the past but was unable to begin any relationships because of her inability to obtain a divorce.
Gordetski is not willing to wait any longer she said, and therefore decided to go on hunger strike ahead of the vote in Knesset and ahead of another hearing in the rabbinical court next Monday.
Along with her ongoing captivity to an unwanted marriage, Gordetski has had to raise her four children alone and has suffered severe financial problems unable to get child support from her husband since he sits in prison and receiving only a bare minimum from National Insurance, which was reduced even further when she began to work.
She is now almost NIS 300,000 in debt, a figure which is growing because she cannot afford to pay her municipal taxes and the Jerusalem Municipal Authority is charging her interest on this ever increasing debt.
Gordetski noted on the one hand that the rabbinical courts have done everything within their authority to compel her husband to grant a divorce, but at the same time said that it is not acceptable that nothing more can be done.
She said that she is not angry with God or with Judaism for her predicament since she believes that it is not God’s intention for her to suffer as she has, and instead blames the system, the rabbinate and lawmakers together, for failing to help her.
Paran Cohen said that there is “no greater example of crass abuse” than a man utilizing his veto over a divorce and said that the time has come to deal with it.
“The phenomenon of chained women and those refused a divorce is a severe social injustice and the bill being advanced would truly address this issue,” said the MK.
“Chained women are on a daily basis fighting for their lives, for their freedom, and for their honor. This ghastly lack of justice screams to the heavens, and the time has come in Israel in the year 2017 for this phenomenon to leave the world.”
During the course of Monday, Tzviah was allowed into the Knesset and attempted to speak to several MKs about her situation. When she approached United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni to request his support for Cohen Paran’s bill, Gafni reportedly began shouting at her and reprimanding her that the legislation contravenes Jewish law.
Gordetski became extremely emotional due to Gafni’s verbal assault and had to be taken to the Knesset clinic to recuperate.
Gafni’s spokesman said in response that she had approached him in a corridor as he had been on his way to “an urgent meeting” but “out of good manners” the MK “spoke with her and listened to her” and that he would pray for her that she gets married once more.
The spokesman denied that Gafni had shouted at Gordetski in any way.
“The rabbinate has closed its doors to me, the Knesset is closing its doors to me, there is no one for me to turn to for help in the State of Israel,” Gordetski told the Post
in tears after the incident.
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