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The Torah Never Intended a Get to Be a Weapon


Woman in Chains

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Jewish law mandates that either spouse can request a get but only the husband can grant one. This technicality in the Jewish divorce process has led to nefarious manipulations by husbands who wish to gain the upper hand in divorce settlements or permanently punish and control their wives.

Such a flagrant imbalance of power enables a get-threat shakedown. Women, some with many children, are faced with impossible demands, forced to yield homes, assets, even custody; coerced into accepting drastic reductions in spousal and child support payments; driven to rely on welfare and social services to survive. Unless women relinquish their rights, the get is often withheld. This deliberate flaying of Jewish law is clearly contrary to its designed intent.

Rabbis who should be reining these men in, enjoining them from using bullying and coercive threats of withholding the get, frequently act as active or passive agents facilitating the husbands’ outrageous demands in bet din. Even well intentioned rabbis encourage women to yield so they can obtain their freedom. The system is tragically out of balance in the diaspora – the number of agunot is on the rise and the abuse of the system by recalcitrant husbands has become common practice.

Many women receive ransom calls, usually through emissaries of the husband, the indirect intimidation stance of cowards. My husband’s rabbi, privy to details of the abuse I’d endured, had no qualms about requesting $250, 000 for the get – and that was twenty years ago. Several years ago my father-in-law said it would take $500, 000 just to coax his son to the negotiation table, and that offer was contingent on my taking out an ad in a major paper begging his forgiveness for all the horrible things I had done to him.

Yes, I got custody of our child; yes, he got supervised visitation. That’s what happens when you can’t control your rages or stick to the mandates of the court – but that’s not his fault, its mine. He remains the martyred, offended party.

A get was never intended to be used as a weapon or a bargaining chip. All custodial and monetary issues are resolvable, either through arbitration, settlement, psak in bet din, or court mandate.

Can you imagine being deprived, in the prime of life, of conjugal relations, intimacy, and a home life for years and years? The beauty of two people living in harmony works when a couple creates a loving, cooperative, respectful life together. However, when marriages don’t work, the family home can become acrimonious and the marriage unsustainable. The Torah made provisos for such cases. Yet many judge a woman’s choice to exit a bad marriage. They feel she should weather the worst, go for more marital therapy, stay for the sanctity of marriage and the sake of the children… What naiveté to think a marriage has to be happy!

Sometimes marriages just need to end. It’s a fact of life. Common causes are financial strife, deceit, infidelity, or couples who’ve grown universes apart, their differences irreconcilable. There are those who endure extreme physical and emotional abuse. Most are women, afraid to leave; many, in fact, stay longer than they should, their bruises not always visible to outsiders.

Children deserve a stable, nurturing, uncontentious environment, not a hostile battleground etched onto their indelible consciousness, shaping their future relationships. Some couples erroneously think that conceiving another child together will somehow mend the family. It only builds the casualty count. When a marriage is dead, there is a moral imperative to facilitate a divorce and to establish the proper separation mechanisms for the two parties.

To date, there is very little recourse for women in my position. Whatever funds we’ve managed to squirrel away are spent with astounding diminution on litigation in bet din, civil court, or both. My husband joined a cadre of recalcitrants, expert in strategic prolonged pro se litigation, advocating “father’s rights” but unable to stay the course of court-appointed forensics or adhere to court-ordered visitation schedules. My life savings went quickly down the rabbit hole during years of bet din and court procedures. Many husbands cleverly hide assets and women are stuck raising children alone, juggling job, motherhood and household with limited assistance, bereft of funds, struggling and vulnerable.

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About the Author: Batya Israel is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist whose focus is on social justice issues.


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8 Responses to “The Torah Never Intended a Get to Be a Weapon”

  1. Anonymous says:

    You sound like a very angry woman. Maybe if you had allowed your husband to establish a relationship with his children and not gone about poisoning him to his children he wouldn't have turned into an angry man.

  2. Hinda Krumbein says:

    Powerful and compelling. We as a community have to take action and do more. I wish the Rabbanim would make an asifa with compelling directives that we must all take to help these women.

  3. Moishe Pupik says:

    Why is the Jewish Press putting up a painting of a naked woman?

  4. Renee Einhorn says:

    Pure evil.

  5. Renee Einhorn says:

    Hinda – you're absolutely right. This is pidyan shivuyim.

  6. When a man's pride is put before the safety and security of the mother and child, something is terribly wrong. Every dime she wastes either through extortion or court costs is one dime that won't go towards the child's future. When the child sees their mother suffer and feels her instability, it stays with them. It's bad enough to treat a woman like this, keeping her from moving on with her life, but to treat the mother like this knowing how it affects your kid? Men are apt to be disgusting, selfish creatures, and women should be warned that we can be very petty when we don't get what we always want…you have my permission to kick your ex in his cajones the next time you see him. He's done far worse to you.

  7. The typical response of an abusive man is- she made me do it. Men who are angry must take responsibility for their anger. Men who do not have a relationship with their children must ask themselves – what have I done to lose their trust. And why is this relevant to any Jewish man's mitzva to give the get when they are no longer living together as man and wife.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Republic1948 – I have read and reread the above op-ed and nowhere do I see the anger you seem to find. Yes, there is hurt – VERY JUSTIFIABLE – caused by a poor excuse of a husband, who cares little about the welfare of his own son, and obviously never had any feelings for his wife, other than to use and abuse her.

    Your obvious sympathy for an abuser, a greedy extortionist, and a useless father betrays your own lack of Torah values (regardless of how pious you may appear outwardly!), at best. At worst, you betray yourself as a manipulator, an abuser, and someone who himself refuses to give a get. SHAME ON YOU!

    20 years ago, while living in Europe my first marriage ended with a get. Was it painful? Absolutely! Did I do the right thing by her and the kids? YOU BETCHA!!!!

    Now Republic1948, why don't you man up and do the right thing yourself?!?!?!?

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