As time passed and the threat of “No Get Ever” became my reality, I heard several cavalier remarks along the lines of “Why don’t you just have someone beat the guy up?” The urban myth had some recurrent circulation among agunot, but very few entertained the idea seriously; it was both illegal and risky. I’ll tell you what I was thinking: He robbed me of my life, took my neshamah out with his vindictiveness. For twenty years and counting I’ve had no man to share my life, no ability to bring more children into the world. I’m looked at askew by my community, with people uncertain about whether they should support me or avoid me like the plague they might catch, and I live on the periphery, existentially alone…waiting.
I’m a good person, but don’t think I didn’t fantasize about hurting my husband back as the stress of prolonged litigation wore on, the loneliness became unbearable, and the chains rattled loud enough to chafe my life raw. Never much of a gambler and all too cognizant of the rules of consequence, I wouldn’t risk my child’s safety or risk depriving him of his mother. Retaliation would have been inevitable, because retaliation and control are what my husband lives for and thrives on.
And though I could imagine inflicting pain on my husband, I could not envision harming the father of my child or looking into my son’s eyes knowing that violence was the means to my freedom.
No one in Klal Yisrael should feel so isolated or desperate that brute force becomes the go-to means of expediency in the procurement of social justice. The ancient Jewish code of law stresses compassion wherever possible. Our moral and ethical compass can be an instigator for real change through the living well of Torah. The desperate actions of a few who resort to drastic halachic measures to obtain a get from men who refuse to give one only highlight the exasperation of these women and rabbis and batei din. The allegations against those rabbis should be seen as a call to action rather than an opportunity to vilify the few who try to break the status quo and change the state of our imprisonment – while everyone else sits on the sidelines waiting for something to happen.
We need to mobilize our resources in a unified way to rectify this abusive mockery of our halachic system. We are the children of the Torah, steeped in rich Talmudic analytic precedence, interpreting law and its applications with analytical prowess dipped in the honey of compassion. Rabbinic law expounds and deciphers, adapting ancient laws to new circumstantial variances, technological advances, and even new twists on subversive amorality. How long do agunot have to wait? How long must we be left barren and forsaken on the roadside? Do we need the Messiah to deliver a rabbinic consensus on this matter?
We need to find better ways to free agunot. In Israel, men are fined for non-compliance with bet din orders, some have rights and privileges rescinded, some are jailed. In the U.S., the Get Law and prenups have been somewhat useful. We have halachic precedence for annulling; what rabbis initiate, such as kiddushin, they can undo and annul. From rishonim to acharonim, notables like the Node B’Yehuda and more recently Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, and Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, freed some agunot on a case-by-case basis.
The Rackman get initiative had some halachic basis but lacked consensus and was problematic on several fronts. There is now word of a new bet bin formed by the erudite Rabbi Simcha Krauss and supported by the respected posek Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, chief justice of the rabbinical high court in Jerusalem. The primary function of this bet din will be to address the agunah crisis using “systematic halachic solutions.” Let’s hope their efforts will help agunot trapped in the quagmire of this injustice.