Yesterday, the women of Israel suffered a major setback in divorce reform as Shas blocked the divorce finances bill by using a coalition threat. This bill would reverse a very damaging law that requires that the man serve his wife a get (religious divorce) before any financial settlements can be made. This system promotes the use of the get as blackmail, since women are unable to receive any financial rights - not even the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi) payments reserved for single mothers - until after the get is served. Shas MKs threatened the coalition by saying that this new bill would break up families. Indeed it will - it will enable women to obtain their freedom from abusive husbands. But for Shas, it is clearly more important to keep women imprisoned at all costs. Keep the blackmail in place, they argue. It seems the status of women in this country is regressing to the Middle Ages. According to the Israel Women's Network, there are approximately 10,000 agunot/ mesuravot get (women denied divorce) in the country. In my view, this is likely an understatement. After all, there is not a single aguna who is not also an abused spouse. Understandably, a man who uses the get as a threat against his wife, who holds her freedom over her head often for years or decades, does not get this way overnight. Abuse is gradual, left to fester through repeated patterns of verbal and emotional violence. According to a University of Haifa study, one out of every seven women in Israel is in an abusive relationship. We can all do the math. That's a lot of women likely to become agunot. WHAT IS truly horrifying about this situation is that Israel remains perhaps the only Western (presumably) country in which abused women are left hanging. In other parts of the world, evidence of abuse in marriage is automatic grounds for divorce. Here, abusive men are given the ultimate power over their wives. They can hold the get over their heads and keep them chained forever. This is what makes Shas's actions so terrifyingly repugnant. When Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev yelled, "Do you know how many cases people opened in the beit din (rabbinical court) and then closed because they managed to get to shalom bayit (peace in the home)?" he effectively advocated this backward, damaging system. An abused woman should never be sent back to do "shalom bayit." It can cost the woman her life. This bill is vital because it can enable women to achieve at least financial freedom while they are struggling to escape from an abusive life. This kind of financial freedom - which unlike the get itself is not dependent on halachic rules that determine female passivity in the process - can enable a woman to get on with many vital aspects of her life. She can set up a new home, become financially independent and free herself from potential blackmail. She may not be able to remarry without the get, but for many women, the ability to remarry is hardly the main point. All they want is the freedom that they deserve as human beings. The writer is an educator, researcher and activist specializing in education, society, religion and gender, and a founding member of Mavoi Satum for Agunot and Mesuravot Get, www.mavoisatum.org. Her blog, "For Serious Jewish Women," is at www.elanasztokman.com.