What can be done to get women a ‘get’?

In extreme cases it is even possible to impose imprisonment.

June 17, 2017 22:47
2 minute read.
Motti Mizrahi

Motti Mizrahi’s five-meter-tall wedding dress flaps in the wind above the Citadel’s ramparts; on the biennale’s last day in November, it will be set free to drift over the Old City skyline. (photo credit: RICKY RACHMAN)


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Recent years have seen a reduction in the problem of get refusal, or men refusing to give their wives a Jewish writ of divorce. The reason for this is that the rabbinical courts have changed their approach and no longer allow gets to be delayed unless there is a justifiable reason. The courts are also quicker in rendering judgments obligating the granting of a divorce when they are of the opinion that there is no possibility of reconciliation.

Additional reasons include increased use of social media to publicize this struggle, as well as for public shaming of such individuals. As a result the pressure placed upon them has increased substantially.

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There are those who claim that prenuptial agreements are the best approach to resolve the issue of get-refusal, because when such an agreement exists there is no logical reason to refuse to granting the divorce.

Despite all the above, however, there are still several extreme cases of get refusal still without resolution, such as that of Tzvia Gordesky, who has been an aguna (a woman “chained” in marriage by a recalcitrant husband) for 17 years. Recently she re-started a hunger strike opposite the Knesset.

There are many alternatives available to a woman whose husband refuses, without justification, to grant her a get. Obviously the natural address is the rabbinical courts. In fact rabbinical courts have the civil legal authority to impose sanctions on those who refuse to grant a get, including among other things delaying or denying pension payments, barring them from leaving the country, withholding their driver’s license and freezing their bank account.

In extreme cases it is even possible to impose imprisonment.

And there is an additional authority that the rabbinical courts have but which they do not frequently use, and that is to send an already-imprisoned get-refuser to solitary confinement. In accordance with the law, within 30 days of the day that he is imprisoned, it is possible to place him in isolation if he still refuses to grant the divorce. This sanction is not frequently used because it is considered an infringement of the husband’s civil rights. Nevertheless there are situations where it is justified, because “chaining” a woman is also an infringement of civil rights.

Beyond the rabbinical court system there is the additional possibility of bringing a civil action for monetary damages against the husband as a result of the pain and suffering caused. However, there is a problem with this approach in that, even if the husband breaks, “gives in” and agrees to grant the get as a result of the lawsuit, the rabbinical court is likely to refuse such an arrangement because in its eyes it will see such a get as having been granted under compulsion, rendering it halachically invalid.

The rabbinical courts are still cautious in imposing such sanctions and, notwithstanding the pressures applied on the husband, there are solutions for the problem of being an aguna. The sanctions provided by the law should be imposed without any fear, even to the extent of imprisoning the individual in solitary confinement and the additional solutions including civil suits and public shaming. By using these methods, the number of agunot will decrease and this problem will eventually disappear.

The author is head of Divon and Partners, specializing in family law.

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