For many people, and particularly for those living outside of Israel, the name Shira Isakov is likely not one with familiarity. But for every reason related to what she has experienced, and more importantly what her actions will hopefully mean for the future, she deserves to be heralded as a modern heroine of the Jewish people.
In the hours before Rosh Hashanah as most of us were preparing for the holiday ahead, Shira was brutally beaten by her husband in their home in the southern town of Mitzpe Ramon. While their toddler son watched, he relentlessly attacked her with a rolling pin and then stabbed her with a kitchen knife until she was on the brink of death. Only because of the selfless bravery and awareness of some diligent neighbors was her life spared.
But Shira’s heroism is not because of her victimhood, but rather what she has done in the wake of this heinous attack. Despite very serious injuries requiring extensive surgeries, rehabilitation and the physical and emotional scars that will stay with her forever, she has chosen to tell her story and do everything possible to help prevent other women from falling victim to brutal spouses and partners.
Most tragically, Shira’s trauma from her husband did not end with his incarceration when he callously chose to launch yet another evil swipe in her direction.
He decided that he would refuse her a get (divorce) and keep her trapped in a marriage to the very man who had demonstrated his venomous hate and willingness to kill her.
After several days of intense public efforts to shame this evil act of depravity, including those advanced by the Yad La’isha organization which I am proud to lead, he eventually relented.
The fact that he relented is certainly not worthy of any praise or empathy. However, what is worthy of discussion is what this case means for the plight of agunot – trapped women.
The very fact that a wife, who was so savagely abused, should have to confront the reality that she possibly remains trapped to a deranged man must remind us of our responsibility to ensure that abuse does not extend to the inability to receive a get. In this particular case, the rabbinical court is to be complimented for expeditiously imposing additional restrictions on the incarcerated husband until he would present a get.
The plight of the aguna cannot be ignored and we are failing our women – all of society, indeed we are failing God – if we simply throw up our hands and let this situation be allowed to continue.
Marriage is sacrosanct; it is a cornerstone of our tradition. Yet the most important document at a wedding, the Ketubah, is a document which does not have God’s name in it but speaks of responsibility between husband and wife in their life together or God forbid, in case of death or divorce. For in Judaism, love is about responsibility. Ahava, love, has at its root “hav”, the ability to give and care.
The reality is that halachic solutions to the plight of the aguna do exist. They just need to be acted upon, understood and embraced by all of us and our religious authorities. Most relevant, this means instituting the acceptance of halachic prenuptial agreements that can ensure these situations will be avoided no matter how and when a marriage is dissolved.
As rabbis, we should not preform weddings without a prenuptial agreement. As parents, we should insist that our children and grandchildren use them! Recognizing that this will not solve all situations and may not be accepted by all, we must strengthen the power given to rabbinical courts to pressure such evil people to release their spouses. These approaches must become the hallmark of how we deal with such people who disgrace God and our tradition by trapping spouses against their will, violating what marriage is all about.
Shira’s personal story might be more remarkable than others but sadly we know that she will not be the last. The abuse of women has sadly become all too commonplace in our society and clearly has been intensified by the tensions and stresses that come with the unprecedented times we live in. It is a pandemic within a pandemic.
Shira’s story demands that we work here and now to ensure that women like her are spared of the inexplicable traumas that come with get-refusal.
The writer, a rabbi, is president and rosh yeshiva of the Ohr Torah Stone network of 30 educational institutions, among them Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for Agunot.