Lady Freedom is weeping

How can a person who works in the hallowed halls of Congress willingly deny a basic human right to another person?

Divorce gavel court get 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Divorce gavel court get 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
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.
It is 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.”
Now 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.
Most likely, 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.”
The 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 House.
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 government.
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 get.
Then, and only then, can Lady Freedom dry her tears, rise to her full stature and stand proudly at the pinnacle of democracy.

The writer 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.