Two little words – ‘no get!’

Just two small words, pronounced by one man, can set into motion a chain of events whose end is not foreseen.

Wedding in Israel_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wedding in Israel_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Just two small words, pronounced by one man, can set into motion a chain of events whose end is not foreseen. These two words comprise the disillusioned battle cry initiating and maintaining a war. Disillusioned as he who declares them believes he will emerge victorious. Alas, he is terribly mistaken, if not downright foolish, for this is a war in which there are no winners. In fact, all are irrevocably wounded – the man himself, his wife, his children, his community and ultimately all of Jewish society.
“No get [divorce].” These are the words uttered by a man to a woman who cannot stay bound to him in marriage – turning himself into a get-refuser and she into a modern-day agunah, or chained woman. At best, such a man wants to do everything he can to keep the family unit together. Prima facie, this may even seem legitimate. Sadly – for any divorce is unfortunate and painful – this is the last thing he could choose to do which would return his wife to him.
The woman who asks for a get and is turned down has either left the house or will do so whether there is a get in place or not. No individual today will stay in a place of suffering if physical escape is possible. The man, who wants to fend off perceived disaster, is feeding the fires of acrimony by issuing the twoword battle cry. In doing so he is declaring himself all-powerful in relation to changing the spouses’ status. He trumpets this power before all – including both rabbinic and civil courts – taunting their powerlessness to extricate the woman from the Jewish bonds of matrimony.
Those two words, whether articulated coldly or with deep emotion, bespeak the downfall of the man’s good standing to the detriment of his children, his family members, those surrounding them and even reaching the greater Jewish community. Witness two well-known examples, one in Israel and one in the United States:
A local synagogue in Jerusalem was torn apart in the past decade. The son of the synagogue’s rabbi had been declared an absconding get-refuser by the High Rabbinic Court of Israel. The man had abandoned his children, escaping the wrath of the Israeli rabbinical court by hiding in various ultra-Orthodox communities in the United States. His father, the rabbi, asserted he had no influence over his son. The community, divided in their belief in his declaration, was torn apart.
Even more outrageous is a current case of getrefusal in the United States, reported not only on the pages of this Jewish publication and others, but in the general US and international media – the New York Times, YouTube, Facebook and the like.
The refusal of Aharon Friedman, lawyer and staff member of Congressman Dave Camp on Capitol Hill, to grant Tamar Epstein a get has involved rabbis, laypersons and communities across the US. A respected rabbinical court has declared Mr. Friedman to be in contempt of its ruling, rabbis have negotiated, synagogues have closed their doors to him, friends have pleaded, concerned individuals have demonstrated repeatedly – but Mr. Friedman continues to abuse his power over Ms. Epstein.
Male readers may erroneously think that the agunah problem cannot touch their lives. But fathers beware – this can affect you. Ms. Epstein is bereft of her father, who passed away without seeing his daughter free of the man who continues to cause her misery. All are vulnerable when power remains unchecked.
There are solutions available within Orthodox Jewish law – stated communal zero tolerance for getrefusal; prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal; social sanctions against a get-refuser, whether male or female, and more.
If the rabbinical establishment grinds its wheels too slowly toward global application of solutions, laypeople can take the matter into their own hands. Led by non-establishment scholars of Jewish law – both men and women – those who are aware of the risk are indeed taking the requisite steps to protect their loved ones. It is time for the rabbis, who until now have apparently been removed from the needs of the people, to publicly recognize the problem and establish the various halachic solutions as de rigueur.
Contained within the briefest of phrases is the derision of rabbinic authority, the goading of (former) family and (ex) friends, the ridicule of social order, the trampling of human rights and the abuse of power entrusted in good faith. Such is the man who utters the two words “no get.” Such is the society which continues to allow him to do so.
“International Agunah Day,” this March 7, is the opportunity to contend with this intolerable state of affairs. International Agunah Day is the time for all to resolve to take the essential actions to protect both women and men, by reinstating basic morality and personal dignity into Jewish society.
The writer has a PhD in Talmud, 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 the author of Minee Einayich MeDim’ah on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal.