When Y married the love of her life 16 years ago and became his third wife, she never imagined that she would end up as the victim of get-refusal even as her husband would already move on to marry his fourth wife.
Because her husband is an Israeli citizen, in January of 2021, Y turned to the Israeli-based Yad La’isha Legal Aid Center, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network, where the staff recognized that her only chance to receive a divorce would be if her husband came to Israel, in which case the Israeli Rabbinical Courts could be asked to get involved. Unlike the US religious courts, Israeli courts have the authority to issue civil sanctions against the husband.
The organization was established more than twenty years ago and has become the largest and most expert organization in Israel and the world for releasing divorce refusals and agunot. A woman who is refused a divorce or an aguna is an imprisoned woman whose life has been stopped, she cannot remarry and if she gives birth to children they will be considered mamzerim, a special designated that bans them from marrying a Jewish spouse except for another mamzer or a convert. The organization’s staff consists of rabbinical advocates and lawyers who represent the women in the courts, and social workers who provide women with emotional support throughout the process.
The story began with the couple’s marriage in the US, followed by the birth of their two children. Much of their time together was defined by abuse on the part of the husband, including mental, economic, and sexual abuse. When the abuse also became physical, in December 2018, a US court issued a restraining order, banning the father from being with his children, and Y decided to dissolve the marriage.
A month later, the husband went to a private rabbinical court where unbeknownst to Y he left a get for her and received permission to remarry. It was only in November 2019 that Y learned that her husband had married another woman, his fourth wife. At the same time, she learned that he had deposited her get, so she turned to the court to gain her freedom. She was surprised to be turned away by the court, which claimed that in the time since the husband had deposited the get with them they had heard that he had recanted, and therefore the divorce document was now null and void.
Over the next two years, Y unsuccessfully lobbied several rabbinical courts to help her attain her freedom. Meanwhile, her husband managed to divorce his fourth wife, granting her a get after securing a bribe of $50,000.
Finally, six months ago, Yad La’isha was informed that the husband landed in Israel. The advocates immediately turned to the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court to issue a stay of exit order, preventing him from leaving the country.
During the hearings in Israel, the husband continued to refuse to grant the get, claiming Y was preventing him from seeing his children. He declared that only if he was granted the right to travel to New York and see his children would he issue the get. But the Israeli rabbinical court determined that Y was not, in fact, preventing him from seeing the children, and that based on all the circumstances and particularly given that he had already married a fourth wife, it was clear that he had no interest in the marriage and thus must free his wife. When he realized that the Israeli court was about to compel him to grant the get or slap him with sanctions, Y’s husband finally relented and to released her from the marriage.
“This case shows once again how critical our work is not just for women based here in Israel but for trapped women all over the world,” said Attorney and Rabbinical Court Advocate Dina Reitchik, who represented Y on behalf of Yad La’isha. “It is rewarding to see that the Rabbinical Court didn’t allow this man to keep his wife trapped and that we were able to help another woman secure the freedom she so deserves.”