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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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Religious Divorce: Where Does Justice Lie?

Divorce

Divorce
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There are always two sides. That’s what makes discussion of this issue so difficult for me.  But not difficult enough to have a firm opinion on how to handle a religious divorce in Judaism otherwise known as a Get.

There is never an excuse to withhold a Get from a woman. NEVER! So strongly do I feel about this issue now, that I can’t envision any circumstance where a Get should not be given when a marriage is no longer viable. Even when there are legitimate issues to discuss like custody of the children or post divorce financial arrangements (e.g. alimony and/or child support). If there is no hope that there will ever be reconciliation, the Get should be given without any preconditions.

I do not say this lightly. Because I am absolutely certain that divorce is not always the husband’s fault. Sometimes it is the wife who is a fault. People can be evil. Evil knows no gender. I need not go into details but it isn’t too difficult to imagine how some husbands are treated during divorce proceedings. Like being accused by the wife of molesting their children in an attempt to get full custody. These things unfortunately do happen.

Nevertheless, there is no way I could in good conscience ever support using the Get as any kind of leverage in any situation. Because that gives an unfair advantage to husbands. Once you allow the Get to be used for leverage, there is no end to the kind abuse it can entail.  Since a woman can only be freed of the bonds of marriage if the husband willingly gives her a Get, he is the one holding all the cards. Even long after they stopped living to together as husband and wife and a civil divorce had been executed.

I am not saying that serious issues between divorcing couples shouldn’t be addressed. Of course they should.  But not at the point of a gun.  Once the marriage is over – a Get should be executed right away. Then they can talk. I believe justice will prevail most of the time. A truly good father can get custody over an irresponsible mother. I know at least one Orthodox family where the wife sued for full custody and father wanted joint custody. They went to court and the father got full custody. The Get was never used for leverage. It was given right away.

Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way.  The plight of Agunos is very much alive precisely because there are husbands that do use a Get for leverage. They will extort exorbitant amount of money as the price of giving one. One such case was reported recently in the New York Times.  Meir Kin is withholding the Get from his civilly divorced ex-wife. He is asking for full custody of their 12 year old son and  $500,000.

This is extortion pure and simple. Not only that, but he has remarried. Or more correctly, he married a second wife.

Now Halacha clearly forbids a man from having more than one wife. This has been the case for over 1000 years. But the prohibition is rabbinic. Biblically he is allowed to have more than one wife. A rabbinic prohibition may be structured any way the rabbis choose to do so.  Which in this case enabled loopholes. Specifically one called a ‘Heter Meah Rabbonim.’ In very unusual circumstances, one may seek 100 rabbis to ‘permit’ a husband to marry a second wife.

One example where a man might be given a Heter Meah Rabbonim is when the reverse happens. When a man wants to give his wife a Get, but she refuses to accept it. A Woman who does not accept a Get remains married to him, whether he likes it or not, and whether he lives with her or not. A Heter Meah Rabbonim frees him to marry a second wife. A woman whose husband refused to give her a Get has no such recourse.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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7 Responses to “Religious Divorce: Where Does Justice Lie?”

  1. Gideon Jones says:

    This problem is easily resolved. If a man refuses to give a get, the community needs to keep him responsible for his part of the contract of marriage until he does.

  2. Gideon Jones says:

    This problem is easily resolved. If a man refuses to give a get, the community needs to keep him responsible for his part of the contract of marriage until he does.

  3. Bill Ades says:

    The Bet Din of New York actually created an agreement like this which many rabbis are including in the contract

  4. Doreen Siler says:

    The main concern is and should be “how a Get or a divorce affects relationships thereafter, particularly regarding remarriage”…
    I personally was married, then divorced (not agreed upon by me) and labeled “…until death do us part”
    I have only one biblical response to the way I was (mis) treated…”that too is insanity or madness if you will”
    So, WHO is in adultery??

  5. Loren Renee says:

    We were not religious at ALL- but My father refused to give a get. My mom figured she wasn’t having any more kids so found the least observant reformed rabbi she could to perform the service. He would have gone to jail to keep her prisoner.

  6. Sharon Angel says:

    “”Tsedek tirdof”” and “”la-asot et hatov wehajasjar””. The Torah is supposed to bring justice in the world, and performing mitzvot must show and proof the loving righteous nature of G-d. So how come orthodox Judaism is not able to solve this terrible injustice which specifically hurts women? How come we need civil divorce to split up correctly after the marriage is over? How come we cannot guarantee the ketoeba really protects the present day bride? Seems like some important details of Jewish Law were not updated to the present and future, and stayed back somewhere before the Middle Ages ….

  7. Ahron Ebert says:

    Chabad in Las Vegas is in violation of Halacha. Rabanu Tam poskined a man who will not give a get should be shunned. That is it is the obligation of the members of his community to shun him. This is the Halacha and it isn't like the Rambam, which everyone knows about, which says he should be beaten up until he says "I want to?". End Chupah and Kadishin practice Palegesh. A woman who is a Palegesh just has to move from his house in order to end her relationship.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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