I’m writing to this column because I have exhausted all other options and have nowhere else to turn. I am a young woman in her twenties who has become just another agunah among the hundreds out there. This past year I made the difficult decision to leave my husband due to his drug addiction. What I thought would be a trial separation resulted in him immediately filing for divorce. I accepted that my marriage was over and began to contact rabbanim to ensure the get would be taken care of.
I waived all financial support, and because there are Baruch Hashem no children, there are no custody issues. I thought this would be over soon and that I’d be able to move on with my life.
Fast forward nine months, and I still have no get. My position is precarious and my decisions limited. I can sign the settlement agreement and wait with the hope that I will get my get from someone who has never given me a reason to trust him. Or, as I have been maintaining, ask that the get be given to me simultaneously with signing the agreement.
My ex-husband and the rabbi have adamantly refused to do so. Instead, they want me to sign the settlement agreement and wait for the divorce to be finalized, whereupon they will then decide if they will give me my get. If I do this, I will lose any leverage over him to give me my get. I am terrified to do that. I wish I was undergoing a divorce in a state with a get law; unfortunately, that is not the case. Thus, I am an agunah.
However, I write not with the purpose of venting or complaining, but to expose the verbal abuse I have endured from the rabbi handling this matter. I will not share his name, as it is not my goal to engage in lashon hara. Yet I will say that if I was a man, I have no doubt he would never call me a “twerp” or tell me that “I’m nothing and [he's] handled people much more powerful.”
I have never been anything but cordial and respectful to this rabbi and I still appreciate all the work he has done. While I understand that I don’t have children, I am not a man with a family and don’t have unlimited funds to donate to his shul, I don’t think that I have to accept this abuse in any way, and I did nothing to deserve this.
Who defends women in my position? Who helps the hundreds of girls like myself who are being bullied by rabbis who look out solely for their own financial interest? So am I destined to be an agunah? Do I have to sit and take this abuse from a rabbi? What should I do?
I am so sorry to read about your dilemma. With little detail to go on, I can simply advise you not to sign on the dotted line. You are right; once you do you will have no leverage. Next, you probably have your reasons for waiving financial support, but I do believe you are entitled to have had a change of heart.
Now that you’ve learned where being a “nice guy” will get you, take the bull by the horns and stop being a pushover. File a claim for monetary support for starters; it may impel your husband and whomever he consults with to come to a settlement before the court rules in your favor.
Dealing directly with this so-called rabbi who is representing your husband is certainly not in your best interest. Ideally, an intermediary (a neutral party) should be acting/speaking on your behalf — one who would be in a better position to take this rabbi on (respectfully, of course).
You may also want to avail yourself of the services of organizations geared to assisting women through the get process.
Keep strong and with Hashem’s help you will prevail!
The following is from a reader who relates to the woman who went from “Mud to Miracles” (see Chronicles of May 31 and June 7).
Dear Humbled but Strengthened,
I read your letter in the Jewish Press (H.O.P.E. – Hold On, Pain Ends) and can identify with much of what you wrote about. I never had the courage to get divorced, thinking that if my life was miserable now, how much more miserable would my husband make it if I shook the waters.
I did not have family to support me and was worried about finances. I also thought that if I try to please my husband, he would be kinder. The one lesson I learned was that controllers are bullies, and you do not fight bullies by being nice; the only way to fight a bully is to bully back. The only rights I have gotten in my marriage were achieved by fighting back and not by being nice.
I too went to many sholom bayis speeches and tried to treat my husband as a king. But all I got in return was treatment fit for the king’s servant. Again I repeat that bullies need to be fought with toughness. I believe girls need to be taught that when you are dealing with normal people you can be mevater (give in) and be nice. But there is a time when one must take a stand. I wish all sholom bayis lectures would include this in order to prevent unnecessary hurt.
Instead of preaching to the choir, it is high time rabbanim focused on preaching sholom bayis to the real culprits, the men. Hatzlocha to you; I am sure you will be happier in your new life. And just know that there are women out there who know exactly what you are talking about.
About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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