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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘get’

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.”

Justice For The Agunah

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Not every marriage is successful. Despite our desire for each to be perfect, we know the truth is there are hundreds of reasons a man and a woman, once joined in love and joy, should no longer remain together. When that happens, Judaism recognizes the need to let the marriage come to an end in a way that allows both husband and wife to grieve for what could have been but wasn’t and then go forward with a productive and meaningful life.

The Torah envisions the reality of our deepest relationships by providing both the road map for marriage – the ketubah – and the mechanism for ending a marriage – the get.

In recent months and years we’ve heard more and more of men – learned, yeshiva-taught men – who withhold gitten from their wives; wives who have a God-given right to be released from their failed marriages. Such cruelty by such men damns these agunot to a non-life.

And it is wrong. Just how wrong can be clearly understood by an examination of the beis din’s elevated role in the community and the holiness of Shabbos and Yom Tov. Simply consider that a beis din does not convene on Shabbos or Yom Tov. At first glance, this would seem obvious. However, it is closed not only for judgment but also for deliberations among the dayanim (judges), even though one could suggest that dayanim deliberating without issuing piskei din (decisions) is little different from talmud Torah.

The Talmud, in Masechet Beitzah (37a), teaches that a beis din does not issue judgments on Shabbos and Yom Tov lest the dayanim be prompted to write p’sak din and thereby transgress the prohibition of ketivah (writing).

The role of the beis din, however, is not only to rule but also to mete out punishment. Further, it is empowered to imprison one whom the dayanim suspect may escape in order to avoid appropriate punishment. It would seem that these beis din actions would be excluded from the Talmud’s prohibition of lo danin, not to issue rulings. These responsibilities and actions require no writing. Yet, quoting Shibolei Haleket,the Rema rules that it is prohibited to punish or imprison on Shabbos and Yom Tov, a ruling founded not on the Talmud’s positions on danin but rather because God ordained that punishments cease on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

As Rambam teaches (Hilchot Shabbat 23:14), “we do not punish on the Shabbos…. if one was sentenced to lashings or to death, we do not mete out the lashings (malkos) or execute him on the Shabbos…” The Shibolei Haleket further ruled that it is likewise forbidden to imprison one who the dayanim fear may try to escape punishment – because imprisonment is also a form of punishment.

The Sefer Hachinuch (Vayakhel) explains the basis of this principle that all are gifted with a day of rest: “…It was the will of God to honor this day, that all should find rest in it, even the sinners and the guilty. A parable teaches that a great king summoned the people of the country to a one-day feast; a feast when he would invite every man, bar none, to the celebration even though immediately after the feast day he would sit in judgment (of some who were present at the feast). So in this matter, Hashem commanded us to hallow and honor the Shabbos day for our good and our merit.”

Even the administration of punishment that may not entail any Chillul Shabbos is forbidden on Shabbos. To imprison one who otherwise might escape punishment is not deliberation of law; it is not adjudication of law, which is rabbinically forbidden; it is not administering punishment, which is biblically forbidden. Yet it is subsumed in the logic and grace of the prohibition to administer punishments – so that all may equally enjoy God’s desire for all to rest, whoever they are.

Longtime Agunah, ‘Chained Woman’ Freed for Passover

Monday, April 7th, 2014

It’s taken 14 years, an ocean of sorrow and who knows how many trials and tribulations – but at the end an agunah, a “chained woman,” is free at last.

Here’s how it all it began:

Thirty years ago as a 15 year old girl the woman was married in Iran to a man with an explosive temper. Three children and 15 years later, the man’s father became ill. He was sent by his son to Israel for treatment in hopes that it would help, together with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter who suffered from diabetes.

The husband and their two sons remained behind in Iran. But alas! The grandfather died four months later, in the Holy Land. His son did not arrive for the funeral, and instead asked his wife to return to Iran with their daughter – which she refused.

Their two sons came to Israel to avoid the draft in Iran, but their father remained, visiting periodically, returning to Iran each time. At each visit, the husband verbally abused his wife and threatened her incessantly, demanding she return to Iran.

She finally opened a file requesting a divorce at the Rabbinical Court, and asked the Family Court for a restraining order against her husband, for times he would appear on his visits. She also asked for a court order to stop him from leaving Israel on his next visit so he could be forced into giving her a divorce.

But he fled on a false passport, evading authorities and efforts to force him to give his wife a Get – a Jewish bill of divorce. Without that document, a Jewish woman cannot remarry, nor can a man.

The effort continued – then three months ago, it was discovered the man was to return to Israel for the wedding of one of the couple’s sons, using a forged passport, via Turkey. This time, authorities managed to catch him despite the attempts of his children to intervene on his behalf. He was arrested and brought before the Rabbinical Court – where again he refused to issue a Get.

The Rabbinical Court in Israel (unlike elsewhere in the world) is empowered to impose sanctions, and so the rabbinical judges did. Placing the “chained wife” in a safe house where she could no longer be harassed by the husband’s family and their children, the Court jailed the husband.

When he figured out that he had no hope of leaving without issuing the decree of divorce, the husband at last came to his senses, agreed to terminate the marriage, and issued the Get to his estranged wife.

“We thank all the departments who worked so hard together, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the security services, for their help in freeing this woman who has suffered so long,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, director of the Department for Chained Women in Jerusalem.

“This year at last she will sit at the seder table on Passover as a free woman.”

Another NY Man Pleads Guilty of Violence against Divorce-Refusers

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Another New York City man has pleaded guilty to being part of a group of men who used violent means in exchange for pay to force Jewish husbands to give their wives religious divorces.

Simcha Bulmash, 30, of Brooklyn pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., to participating in the extortion ring, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000 when he is sentenced in July. He remains out of jail on bail, which includes a $500,000 bond and GPS monitoring.

At least three other members of the ring have pleaded guilty in recent weeks and face the same punishments.

Several men, including two Orthodox rabbis, were arrested last October as part of an undercover FBI sting operation. The ring charged some $60,000 for its services.

The men allegedly kidnapped and beat up recalcitrant husbands until they agreed to the religious divorce.

Orthodox Jewish women cannot remarry without a get, or writ of divorce, granted by a rabbinical court, which requires the husband’s consent. Some husbands and wives withhold a get in order to gain more favorable terms for alimony or custody of children.

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.

NY Man Pleads Guilty to Violently Forcing Husbands to Free ’Agunot’

Monday, March 10th, 2014

A New York personal trainer has pleaded guilty in federal court to being part of a group of men who used violent means in exchange for pay to force Jewish men to give their wives religious divorces.

David Hellman, 31, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. and could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison with a fine of $250,000 at his June 12 sentencing hearing.

Nine other men, including two Orthodox rabbis, were arrested in October 2013 as part of an FBI sting operation. The ring charged some $60,000 for its services. According to a complaint filed in court, the men kidnapped and beat up recalcitrant husbands until they agreed to the religious divorce.

Hellman was charged with “traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion,” and the others were charged with kidnapping, Reuters reported, citing court documents.

Orthodox Jewish women waiting for a divorce, or “get,” granted by a rabbinical court, are known as “chained women” or “agunot” because recalcitrant husbands refuse to sign the divorce documents, although some husbands, and wives, withhold a get in order to gain more favorable terms for alimony or custody of children.

The Torah Never Intended a Get to Be a Weapon

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-torah-never-intended-a-get-to-be-a-weapon/2014/01/01/

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