Need a get? There’s an app for that.
Well, not quite. But a recent initiative is using technology to improve the get process for batei din and divorcing spouses. It operates an online feedback system it describes as “Yelp! for Batei Din” and advocates for high standards of transparency in divorce proceedings. While some have expressed worry that the program misses the mark, the larger response has been positive, with organizations investing in improvements that could make the program, called Rate My Beit Din, a game-changing project.
In recent years, concerned parties have approached the Jewish divorce issue from many angles. Perhaps the most well-known is the halachic prenup. Several communities have adopted versions of this document to proactively ensure a get is given and received if a marriage dissolves. Rate My Beit Din attacks the challenge for those couples who find themselves without that avenue of recourse.
“Ninety percent of the time, solving get refusal does not need to touch halacha,” said Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, one of the partners backing this new project. “Simple operating changes made by batei din and changing communal norms would prevent or resolve [these cases].” Jaskoll has advocated for modern agunot since her experience with her aunt’s divorce years ago. At the time, she witnessed a process that did not take the reality of a divorcée into account. Since that experience, she has witnessed many, many more indignities.
“For a [religious] woman to get to the point where she’s filing in court, she has to have reached the decision that living as a divorced woman in the frum community is preferable to the situation she’s in. She’s realized that her dream of being an akeres habayis, a homemaker, has failed. She’s often walking in already beaten down. For the dayanim to look at her and say, ‘Have you tried shalom bayis?’ shows a lack of understanding of how she got there and the reality of her position,” Jaskoll said.
The goal of Rate My Beit Din (www.ratemybeitdin.com) is twofold. The first is to provide feedback and resources to batei din to improve how they interact with parties during divorce proceedings. The other is to help men and women getting divorced make informed decisions when going forward.
The idea is to slowly create an operating standard: approved batei din are ones which are transparent, which don’t allow for shady deals, and which recognize abusive behaviors when they present themselves. On the site, one can look up batei din by name. Each has a rating, along with a breakdown of important data, such as cost, whether people felt pressured to exchange something for their get, if they were allowed to bring representation with them, and more. There are also reviews, which are vetted by the site.
As would be expected, some batei din have less than stellar reviews. In the view of one dayan interviewed for this article on the condition of anonymity, this should not come as a surprise. “In every case,” the dayan explained, “there will be, for lack of better terms, a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser.’ Unlike Yelp!, which will have some reviews from happy customers and some reviews from unhappy customers, this system is set up to skew toward the negative.”
His main criticism was that while a site like this means well, it ultimately piles onto already beleaguered batei din, increasing negative public views and cynicism. “I’m not going to defend every beit din; they are not a licensed enterprise,” he said. “There are some great ones and some that you want to run away [from] as far as you can… But the more buzz there is like this, the more you undermine the really legitimate batei din who want to help the women but who can’t do much because the public is not with them.”
The dayan pointed out the numerous cases in which a beit din tries to serve a seruv [a court order against a party who has refused to appear] to incentivize a party to give a get, only to watch the community ignore the order, allowing the spouse to carry on as normal in shul, schools, and other communal environments.
Jaskoll said that Rate My Beit Din is sensitive to such criticisms and has already begun taking steps to address them. Though it will take time, the site is implementing a third-party review system alongside the user ratings. These reviews will be provided by professionals who deal with batei din around the world and who often can add an impartial perspective on a beit din’s habitual conduct.
The site is also adding a rating for “ease of information,” which will be based solely on objective measures, specifically whether a beit din has a website with clear contact, cost, and procedural information posted.
Speaking broadly about the divorce process, Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, Esq., director of the Beit Din of America, acknowledged the need for sensitivity in this area. “I think that batei din generally try to make the get experience as comfortable as possible for the people who utilize their services,” he said. Rabbi Weismann added that “especially for women walking into a room full of men in a very emotionally fraught situation, it’s important to solicit feedback, and for batei din to constantly search for ways to make the process smooth and unintimidating.”
Individuals who have gone through the courts find the site encouraging. One woman who used it to rate her beit din experience reported that she wished she had known about the site before she went through her process. “In my city, there’s only one option for a beit din,” she told The Jewish Press, “so it wasn’t like I was going to use this to ‘beit din shop.’ But I had to get an idea of what to expect through word of mouth, which was hard in my circles. With this, I would have been more informed, could have set my expectations – that would have been nice.”
Keshet Starr, Esq., the executive director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), sees a similar benefit. “It’s very important for individuals to research religious courts before signing on to arbitrate,” she said, though she cautioned that “it’s also critical to get individual guidance specific to a person’s situation and based on the halachic community a person is working within.”
Currently, the site is limited by the number of responses. As word spreads, more feedback can be collected, which could bolster faith in the service, both for batei din and for divorcing couples.
Rate My Beit Din also has to contend with the fact that it is currently a behind-the-scenes initiative. Like many nascent social endeavors that tackle highly stigmatized communal situations such as divorce, there are numerous parties backing the platform but few who are ready to publicly put a name to that support. This includes dayanim, advocacy organizations, and batei din who are interested in working with the people involved in the initiative.
All that said, the site has already had some positive impact. A few batei din in North America and the United Kingdom have made changes to their websites as a result of feedback posted on the site and have asked how they can further improve their ratings. In addition to providing procedural suggestions, such as prominently posting a court’s divorce procedures on the beit din’s website, Rate My Beit Din offers batei din free training in a variety of areas including how to identify addiction and abuse.
To those who continue to challenge the views driving the project, Jaskoll asks that they consider the irony of the agunah. “What is really chaining this woman?” she asked. “It is purely her faith in Hashem. If she said, ‘I’m not doing this,’ there’s literally nothing stopping her from walking out the door and leaving. But she has faith in Hashem and the Torah and believes she is married. She is willing to give up her position in our community, her most fertile years, often thousands of dollars, because she believes so strongly.”
When we ignore these women’s pleas to try to change the way things are done, she said, “We’re failing people with the strongest emunah.” It is her hope that the website will continue to evolve, eventually creating a more robust, sensitive, and just Jewish court system.