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July 22, 2014 / 24 Tammuz, 5774
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The Rodfim In Our Midst – Get Withholding Husbands


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A friend of mine, a young mother, related that her oldest child, now three, was starting pre-school in a few weeks. Her voice, full of pride, quickly took on a tone of annoyance as she described the “welcome package” she had received as a new parent. Amid the rules and regulations concerning drop off and pick up was a dress code for mothers/female caregivers who brought and took home the children. One of the “requirements” was wearing closed–toed shoes. Sandals were not allowed.

What would they have told Sarah or Rachel, she ruefully commented, had their kids gone to this school – one of many with similar rules of tznius. No doubt their toes stuck out from under their robes!

But what really raised her ire, she told me, was what she felt was the “powers to be” misplaced sense of priority. A close childhood friend of hers was an agunah of several years, and her only child was a student in the school. “Instead of focusing on our toes,” she fumed, “why don’t the keepers of the school’s sanctity – so concerned with the continuity of unsullied Yiddishkeit – use their collective, halachic expertise to persuade my friend’s husband to give her a get. Her son wants a sibling, just like his classmates have. As for my friend, she deserves to have a life.”

Why not indeed!

As I flip through The Jewish Press and come across the seruv column that lists the names of men who have thumbed their noses at the rulings of batei din, my blood pressure goes up and I get angry and distressed. Some of these women have been agunot for years. They are trapped in a bizarre world where they are not single but are not married in the real sense of the word.

I truly believe that gedolai hador should declare a husband who, after a designated number of years have passed, still stubbornly refuses to give his “spouse” a get and the freedom to get on with her life, a rodef. A rodef is someone who is viewed as a future murderer out to kill you and hence you are allowed to take the initiative and kill him first.

While secular law would clearly forbid such a person from being physically taken out (it would be viewed as murder), just the fear that he could halachically be viewed as a target could instill enough fear in him to get him to reconsider. Of course the community could “kill” him socially – not allowing him to enter a shul, kollel, or places of public gatherings, like a simcha, and those members of his family or close friends seen talking to him or opening their door to him would be ostracized as well. Their communal isolation would be the price they pay for associating with a rodef.

We are a people who believe that a single life saved is the equivalent of saving a whole world. It goes without saying that every life created can be viewed as a new world. Decades ago, those couples who after years of frustrating and heartbreaking infertility were fortunate to have had a child or two – and who now enjoy grandchildren and even great grandchildren – understand all too well the concept of creating worlds.

When an agunah in her childbearing years is prevented from halachically remarrying and having more children, then one can view the man who prevents new life as destroying entire worlds. If a destroyer of worlds does not qualify as a rodef who would?

We all know divorced women who went on to marry a second time and have more children. Had these women been agunot, these children would not be born.

Seems to me that a husband who does not give his wife a religious divorce is doing Hitler’s work for him – decimating the Jewish people. Our enemies would like to see us disappear and become extinct: As it is so many young Jews assimilate and eventually their descendants are swallowed into the general population with no awareness of their heritage. It is frum Jews with feet planted firmly on the derech who are being prevented from building new batei ne’eman b’yisrael – and launching new links on the holy chain that was created at the base of Har Sinai.

While sonai Yisrael are doing their best to physically destroy us, the husband who will not release the woman he is legally married to, but who emotionally and spiritually is no longer his wife, is undermining the viability of the nation.

In many cases, the husband refuses to give a get simply out of sheer malice, a need to control or to be punitive. Sometimes it is a means of extortion – a bid to “sell” the get for as much as a desperate woman and her family will pay. She still may be breathing, but it is a living death these rodfim are inflicting upon their wives.

I am very aware that there are two sides to the story and that there are husbands who have relatively valid reasons for not initially giving a get. These men are decent, upright individuals who are being tormented and unrealistically maligned and vilified.

For some husbands, then, holding back on giving a get is their “ace in the hole” against an unreasonable or vindictive spouse who, for example, tries to alienate their children against him, emotionally and physically, preventing him from seeing and interacting with them; or who greedily demands an unfair share of their mutual assets.

Spousal abuse is not a one way street – men “fall in” as do women.

I once heard a joke that actually spoke volumes beneath its humor. A man in a cemetery observes another man standing over a grave weeping and repeatedly screaming, “Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die!” The first man, impressed with the level of upsetness shown by the stranger, offered his condolences and said, “He must have been very special to you.” The man stops his howling and says, “No, I never met him.” Shocked and very perplexed, the man asks him, “Why are you crying so hard over his death?”

“Because,” the man answered, “He was my wife’s first husband!”

Women as well as men can be very difficult to live with and stay married to, and when a marriage needs to be terminated (divorce in some cases being the lesser of two evils) a man may not have a choice but to withhold a get and use it as a bargaining tool to obtain fair and reasonable access to his children and/or financial assets.

By denying the get initially, he enhances his chances to get what he rightfully deserves. But eventually, it may be in his best interest to cut the matrimonial bonds that restrict him so that he too can get a second chance in life.

It is truly bewildering and unfortunate that the plight of the agunot – I don’t know how many there are but even one is too many – is not addressed with the same zeal and fervor and eagerness as is the issue of toe- exposure at pre-school pick-up. After all, future worlds are at stake!

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