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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘agunah’

Can Lawyers Help Solve The Agunah Crisis?

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Family law attorney Martin Friedlander told members of the legal and mental health community who gathered at the Yashar Conference in New York City that perfecting a halachic prenuptial that would be accepted as the norm and used in all sectors of the Jewish community would curtail a host of problems – from Get refusal, to establishing basic financial support arrangements, and shortening the amount of time a divorce proceeding, once initiated, would take.

Friedlander specifically outlined a universally-accepted halachic prenuptial which would designate a pre-determined sitting beis din, as opposed to a Zablah, where the parties each choose one judge, and those two choose a third. He also said the issue of Shalom Bayis would be tracked. He said neither of these stalling tactics could be used, thereby forcing legal costs to skyrocket, while extending the time one must cover for living expenses, with the goal of causing one party to run out of money and be forced into a settlement offer that is highly unfavorable to them.

While some say that lawyers should not be involved in liberating agunot, and that it should rather be left for rabbinical courts to handle, Nathan Lewin, the renowned American Constitutional lawyer, said, “It’s because of lawyers that partial steps have been taken to resolve the problem of Get refusal.”

Lewin related how, when he was in Yeshiva College, there was uproar when Rabbi Shaul Lieberman at the Jewish Theological Seminary added a clause to the kesubah about a halachic prenuptial. “Then I go out into private practice and 30 years later, I am asked by the OU and the Agudath Israel of America to write a friend-of-the-court brief that it is constitutional to have parties go to arbitration in beis din.”

Lewin explained he wrote a fiend-of-the-court brief supporting the Conservative kesubah in the case of Avitzur vs. Avitzur, heard before the N.Y. Court of Appeals, where the Court found that agreements binding couples to alternative dispute resolution forums was constitutionally permissible. The holding in this case was later codified in New York Domestic Relations Law §253.

Lewin said that in 1983 Agudat Yisrael of Israel realized the agunah problem was a serious crisis and called a meeting of top legal minds, including Aaron Twersky, Alan Dershowitz, Nathan Lewin, among several others, to Israel. They met in the Agudat Yisrael’s offices, and spent an entire day trying to brainstorm on a legal resolution, “The result was an agreement that Get refusal was a barrier to remarriage; it’s a simple notion, if someone goes to court to dissolve a marriage, he or she shouldn’t be able to say, ‘Give me an order that dissolves my marriage while I’m still retaining a barrier to the marriage of my spouse.’ ”

On that basis, in 1983, Lewin says, “Agudath Israel of America, with the help of the New York State Assembly and Sheldon Silver, who was very active and very supportive, got the 1983 Get Law enacted. I personally drafted the language of the 1983 NY Get Law and have notes in my files from Rabbi Moshe Sherrer asking me, ‘Please, it’s an emergency situation, the Assembly is only in session for a couple more weeks.’ ”

Lewin said that today every time he visits Israel, he is asked to visit the Rabbinical Court to discuss cases of Israeli husbands who have absconded to the United States without giving their wives a Get. While the Israeli Rabbinate would like to extradite these men, Lewin explains that’s since “they haven’t committed a crime, so it’s impossible to extradite them… the answer is, again, to look at creative novel legal mechanisms that might affect them in some way.” Lewin suggests establishing a registry for those who impose barriers to remarriage in order to shame them, just as there are registries of sex offenders. He also suggests having one’s tax return audited at the request of the wife who has not received a Get.

Talya Faigenbaum, an attorney from Australia, explained that Australian courts will not enforce a prenuptial agreement that requires parties to go to arbitration in beis din. However, she has found alternative solutions that are proving effective in obtaining a Get in Australia, where an order of protection is issued on the grounds of abuse and control. Under Australian law, abusive behavior is not necessarily classified as “physical abuse,” and it is considered abuse to prevent your partner from keeping connections with his or her spiritual beliefs or practices. Thus failure to provide a Get and thereby prevent a woman from moving on with her Jewish religious life may fall into the category of spousal abuse and ultimately criminal law.

Alyza Lewin, law partner and the daughter of Nathan Lewin, said this issue is very personal as she has a close relative who is trapped as an agunah. She spoke of the Get Law that is currently before the city council of Washington, D.C., which she describes as brilliant.

“The first part is modeled on the NY Get law requiring an affidavit accompanying a complaint for divorce that the plaintiff will remove all barriers to remarriage. The second part recognizes that putting up any kinds of obstacles to remarriage are a form of abuse which could be equivalent to a tort where one could seek damages,” Alyza Lewin explains. “It was originally narrowly drafted to apply to this specific religious group, but is now broad enough to apply to people who are being stalked, harassed and prevented from maintaining personal relationships.”

Addressing the question of the point at which one can establish Get refusal, Alyza Lewin said, “I have a problem labeling it Get refusal and think ‘Get abuse’ is a better term, because if in the negotiations a woman is being asked to take positions, or give up rights, to obtain the Get, to give up, and give up, and give up, that is a form of abuse as it’s going on. We don’t have to wait until the Get refusal at the end…even if at the end of the day she receives her Get, she’s been abused, because she’s had to give up all these things, and that’s been going on long before the final day the recalcitrant spouse may decide not to show up, even though he said he’d show up.”

Devora Mandell

Mossad: All 11 Jews Missing after Fleeing Iran in the 90s Were Murdered

Monday, July 27th, 2015

(JNi.media) One year after determining that eight Jews who tried to escape from Iran in 1994 were murdered on their way to Israel, the Mossad has recently found that three other Jews who left Iran three years later were also murdered, Ynet reported. The new determination enabled the Rabbinical Court to rule that their wives are released from their Agunah status and may remarry.

Agunah (Heb: anchored) is a halachic term for a Jewish woman who may not be married because her husband refuses to divorce her, or is missing.

The brothers Cyrus and Ibrahim Kahrameni and Norallah Ravizada fled Tehran in February 1997. They were to meet with a smuggler at the Pakistani border, but did not arrive at the meeting and have since disappeared. Three years earlier, eight other Jews who left Iran in an attempt to flee to Israel disappeared. Their families, who came to Israel via Turkey, have been complaining over the years that the state is not doing enough to find their loved ones and provide closure to the painful affair.

A few years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Mossad to expand the investigation of the fate of the missing. Mossad chief Tamir Pardo took on the assignment and managed to close the case. In March last year it was reported that the Mossad was able to unravel what happened to the eight Jews who fled in 1994, stating that “intelligence officials received information from a reliable source that those Jews were captured during the escape and were killed.”

Recently the Mossad also informed the families of three other missing that their loved ones were also caught and killed during their escape.

Using this new information, a panel of the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, headed by Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, removed the status of Agunot from the wives of the missing, stating that they are the widows of martyrs. The families are now waiting for the official judgment to be released and until then they have declined to comment.

The families requested a meeting with the President and the Prime Minister so that they will officially deliver to them the news.

JNi.Media

Leniencies In The Matter Of Agunot

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Leading rabbis in every generation have tried to find solutions, even far-fetched ones, for the distress of agunot – women whose husbands desert them and refuse to give a get, thus preventing them from remarrying.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger helped release an agunah with the explanation that “The time is right to release a Jewish wife from being an agunah, and Jewish women should not be hefker (ownerless victims who are trapped and might be led to sin). Thus we are going to be lenient with an agunah.”

The Maharam of Rotenberg in his responsa goes so far to rescue an agunah by invoking the concept of mekach ta’ut (marriage under false pretenses); had the wife known that her husband was so cruel, she never would have married him. Therefore the act of Kiddushin (marriage) is annulled “l’mafria” (retroactively) using the concept of hefker beis din hefker (what beis din declares null and void is null and void).

These great rabbis were no less God-fearing than the dayanim of today. But they were not afraid to seek solutions for complex questions regarding agunot. Moreover, according to Kabbalah, releasing an agunah brings the Final Redemption closer.

Solving the problem of agunot in a manner consistent with halacha is one of the major rabbinic challenges of our time. Israeli law has authorized the rabbinical courts to imprison a husband who denies his wife a get. However, there are dayanim (rabbinic judges) who oppose such enforcement for fear of a get kafui – a divorce granted under coercion, which is not considered valid. Consequently, many cruel husbands exploit the situation and prolong the abuse of their wives.

This is a complicated issue. On the one hand, a get imposed on a husband against his will is invalid according to halacha. On the other hand, the Rambam rules concerning a husband who refuses to give his wife a get: “He is beaten until he says, ‘I agree.’ ” The Rambam says such a get is valid.

This seeming contradiction is explained by the existence or lack thereof of a decree of beis bin requiring the husband to divorce his wife. Most opinions agree that without such a prior rabbinical court decree, even mild persuasion might threaten the non-coerced requirement of the get.

When, however, a rabbinical court decree requiring the husband to divorce his wife is secured, persuasion, coercion, and even force are considered valid in bringing the husband to comply with the decree of the beis din and give a get of his own free will.

Today’s rabbanim are divided over the types of sanctions that according to halacha can be imposed on husbands who deny their wives a get. The unresolved nature of these differences of rabbinical opinion has led to many wives living as captives to unscrupulous husbands who hold them in chains and blackmail them.

Many rabbinical judges seem to ignore the directive of the great Maharsha in the Talmud Bavli Yevamot: “To free an agunah our rabbis invoked many far-reaching leniencies.”

The Maharsha concludes: “God must grant courage to rabbinical judges so that trapped and captive suffering wives will be blessed with peace and domestic tranquility.”

Rabbi Ephraim S. Sprecher

Religious Divorce: Where Does Justice Lie?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

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.

Harry Maryles

Proposed Law: No ‘Mehadrin’ Kosher Food to Imprisoned Get Refusers

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman has proposed a new law by which the plight of agunot should be somewhat relieved.

The new law, if it will pass, will take away mehadrin food rights for anyone sitting in jail due to his refusal to give his wife a get. If the husband has made his wife an agunah, and he is sitting in jail because of it, which is not a common step to be taken, “would not be housed in the prison’s religious wing; would not be given the more strictly supervised mehadrin kosher food and would not be allowed to make any phone calls other than to their rabbinic pleader or their attorney.” source: Haaretz

Lipman’s proposal has support form other MKs and, more importantly, was crafted in coordination with Chief Rabbi Dovid Lau.

Lipman explains that this additional step will break the spirit of those hiding behind religion to hurt their wives. Lipman admits it is a small step, but as he explained to me this is something that can harm their standing in the community and therefore can be effective in a way that even jail was not.

The proposal takes into account that this can be seen as undermining the rights of a prisoner, but gets around it by examining that the get-refuser can be released from the restrictions at any time by following the ruling and giving his wife a get, thus putting the keys in his own hand.

I wonder if this will pass the test of legality or be knocked down, even if it should pass in the Knesset, by the Supreme Court.

I hope it passes because each additional step, even small ones, taken to help the agunot is important.

Visit Life in Israel.

Rafi Goldmeier

Agunah Gets her Get

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Gital Dodelson, the “chained” woman featured on the front page of the New York Post last fall, says she has received a get, or religious writ of divorce, from her husband.

The announcement appeared Wednesday afternoon on a Facebook page dedicated to helping Dodelson obtain a get and was confirmed by a publicist who has worked with the Dodelson family.

In a story than ran in the Post on Nov. 4, 2013, and in subsequent media interviews, Dodelson detailed her struggle to obtain a religious divorce from her ex-husband, Avrohom Meir Weiss, whom she had divorced in civil court in August 2012.

According to traditional Jewish law, or halachah, a woman must obtain a get from her husband to be considered divorced; women whose husbands deny them a get are called agunot, or chained wives.

Shira Dicker, the publicist who has worked with the Dodelson family in their public campaign to compel Weiss to give the get, said the pressure finally worked.

“The community pressure really just began to multiply, and then something changed,” Dicker told JTA.

Dodelson’s claim of having received the get could not be independently verified with Weiss, who is a great-grandson of the late Orthodox luminary Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

Dicker said Dodelson will continue to advocate for the countless Orthodox women chained to recalcitrant husbands.

“The family wants to remain as agunah advocates,” Dicker said. “It doesn’t end with Gital’s get.”

 

JTA

Husband Jumps Out of Court Window to Escape Divorce

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Jerusalem police deployed a helicopter Wednesday to help them look for a convict who jumped out from a bathroom window in rabbinical court rather than face divorce proceedings intended to free his estranged wife of 12 years to marry again.

Shai Cohen, 40, has been in jail for six years for refusing to divorce his wife, and his lawyer thought he was ready to agree to sign divorce papers, but Cohen apparently could not face the music.

Cohen previously had entered court hearings shackled and handcuffed, but this time, authorities accepted his claim that it was demeaning.

In what apparently was a pre-arranged plan, he asked to go the bathroom. After several minutes, guards began to worry something was wrong. When Cohen did not answer their calls, they broke down the door, but Cohen was nowhere to be found.

An escape car is suspected to have whisked him away.

His wife said in the courtroom, “I knew he would do something like this.  They should not have taken off the handcuffs and shackles.”

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/husband-jumps-out-of-court-window-to-escape-divorce/2013/03/06/

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