The get-refusal problem should have been solved more than 30 years ago - opinion

One in five women is refused a get from her ex-husband when they divorce, making it impossible for her to remarry.

 SHIRA ISAKOV arrives at the Beersheba District Court in January for legal proceedings involving her ex-husband, Aviad Moshe, convicted of attempting to murder her.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
SHIRA ISAKOV arrives at the Beersheba District Court in January for legal proceedings involving her ex-husband, Aviad Moshe, convicted of attempting to murder her.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

This week, on March 17, it will be 30 years since Israel passed the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Thirty years of a foundational law demanding universal human dignity and liberty should be cause for celebration. But how can society celebrate when so many are excluded from enjoying the human dignity and liberty described in the law?

How can it be that in the 30 years since this law has been enacted, women can still not marry or divorce freely? Why has the issue of agunah – women refused a divorce by their husbands – not been solved?

Rachel (an alias for privacy reasons) began enduring horrific physical and verbal abuse shortly after she married. She had one young child and the couple decided to divorce. Her husband fled the country to avoid paying alimony and did not give Rachel a get (a Jewish bill of divorce). After 20 years of agunah, Mavoi Satum, an organization fighting for the rights of agunah, represented her in the beit din, the rabbinic court.

At that point, the beit din ordered him to give the get but claimed that because Rachel’s husband was not in Israel, they could not enforce the order or apply sanctions. Because the rabbinate failed to find a solution for her, Rachel has been an agunah for more than 30 years. Her dreams to remarry and start a new family could never be realized. Today, Rachel is nearly 60 years old and still married to her abuser, with no hope in sight to ever receive her freedom.

One in five women is faced with agunah when divorcing. Close to 2,000 women a year grapple with agunah. How is it possible that in 2022, in a modern and progressive country we remain unwilling and/or unable to address such human tragedy? Some choose to blame Halacha (Jewish Law). The main claim I hear in response to this topic is: “This is a halachic issue and is not easy to solve. We cannot risk potential mamzerim because of being lenient when it comes to dissolving a marriage.”

 THE RABBINICAL Court’s Division for Agunot in Jerusalem: All possible leniencies should be employed to help in releasing an ‘aguna.’ (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) THE RABBINICAL Court’s Division for Agunot in Jerusalem: All possible leniencies should be employed to help in releasing an ‘aguna.’ (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

This fear is misguided; there are halachic solutions to this matter. We as a society must be willing to take any steps possible to free women from being caged in dead marriages. There are religious scholars who have taken brave steps to create change.

For example, the late rabbi Simcha Krauss fought tirelessly to help solve this issue, despite being the target of scathing backlash. Unfortunately, rabbis like him are not the mainstream. The majority of rabbis that occupy the seats in the rabbinate seem apathetic and disinclined to utilize the halachic tools available to them to end the suffering of so many women.

Perhaps most striking is that when the rabbinate is presented with a case it feels must be solved, suddenly there are acceptable solutions. Shira Isakov, who by some miracle survived her husband’s attempt to murder her, was initially denied a get from her husband. The rabbinate devised a method to help her receive a get within five days. The public would not have accepted anything less for her high-profile case. Other cases that draw less public attention and pressure do not enjoy the same interest by the rabbinate to find solutions.

I am certain that Israel can solve this internally, but it has been 30 years since the enactment of the law for human dignity and liberty, and we are no closer to solving this crisis. We still have thousands of women praying and fighting to be released from unwanted marriages. What else can we do to resolve this crisis?

Israel is a party to several international conventions relating to discrimination and violence against women. Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) states that men and women shall have “the same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution.”

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence states: “Parties shall ensure that culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called ‘honor’ shall not be considered as justification for any acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention.”

Israel is undeniably violating the above clauses. Is it time for Israel to be put in the spotlight for violating women’s basic rights? Perhaps, it is time to call upon the international community to place political pressure on Israel to live up to its international commitments. This may be the only way to motivate the decision-makers in government to ensure the rabbinate uses the halachic solutions at their disposal to end this archaic form of violence and discrimination against women.

I recently gave birth to my second daughter and I am deeply troubled knowing that they are born into a world where they must still fear getting married religiously in Israel. My hope is that it will not take another 30 years before the Basic Law truly ensures that human dignity and liberty can be celebrated by all and that both women and men will be able to marry and divorce freely, without fear. That is their legal, moral and ethical right.

The writer is an attorney who works at &frnds, an Israeli hi-tech company working toward financial inclusion in developing countries. She also volunteers with Mavoi Satum, an organization fighting to end the agunah crisis.

For a detailed description of the solutions to the agunah crisis, see https://www.internationalbeitdin.org/halakhic-resources and https://mavoisatum.org/en/public-advocacy/promoting-halachic-solutions/.