Here is an insight on Yom Agunah from Rena Sherbill:
This past Thursday, March 20, was Yom Agunah (Agunah Day). On Wednesday, March 19, in recognition of this day, there was a protest march from the Beit Din (Jewish Court) in Jerusalem to the Knesset. Agunah, literally a "chained" woman, is a term applied to women whose husbands refuse to give them a get (bill of divorce).
For almost three years, this term has applied to me. After countless meetings at the Beit Din, and between our two lawyers, the process of divorce is still dragging on, despite the fact that we have lived apart all this time and that each of us has dated other people. This situation, that men are granted the power to withhold a divorce, without a doubt mocks the entire halachic system as antiquated and misogynistic.
The way the Beit Din tells it, however, is that women and women's organizations are simply misleading the public with false statistics. In fact Arutz Sheva has run two articles on this topic, both times only quoting one source – the Beit Din itself. The article states, "In 2007, an Israeli survey revealed that there are only 180 cases of refusing-get husbands including 69 documented agunah cases. In contrast, there are 190 cases in which the wife refuses to give the husband a divorce." To hear them tell it, not only are men being refused divorces, but there are even more of them than women (this source is also quoted in the "agunah" entry on Wikipedia). How can this be? Are the myriad women's organizations who have taken up the cause of agunot misinformed? Or worse, are they padding the facts to get their point across?
Contrastingly, how can a so-called news organization write an article on an inflammatory and controversial topic like agunot while only quoting one side (that of the Beit Din)?
To put these matters in perspective, I would like to take note of what Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari said this past July at the Kolech (Religious Women's Forum) conference in Jerusalem. Dr. Halperin-Kaddari, director of the Center for the Advancement of Women's Status in the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, presented statistics that compared how the religious courts (Batei Din) calculate the number of agunot versus the way the women's organizations do. For instance, the Batei Din do not include in their category of men witholders, any couple who is engaged in "[disagreement over] mezonot (child support)," meaning where the woman is asking for child support and the man refuses to give it. The women's organizations' statistics take into account that many of these mezonot cases are actually cases of men who are offering a get only if the woman will give up her right to child support. The Batei Din allow this blackmail to go on, and cover up this fact by using a misleading title for the category that makes it sound as if the two sides are equal.
From my experience in this process, I can attest to the fact that this practice runs rampant. My ex-husband used the get as a bargaining chip in a multitude of ways. Just two examples are when he said he wouldn't give me a get unless the amount of child support was lowered (even though the Court mandated the lowest legal amount of child support), or unless I gave up my right to appeal to the Civil Court in matters of visitation and child support.
Another disparity in statistic collection between these two bodies is a result of the Beit Din leaving out any case where there have been no court hearings for six months or more. By their very nature, most of these agunah cases drag on indefinitely, which makes this omission a glaring one.
Another article, this time coming from a Haredi website called the Shema Yisrael Torah network, also makes its case. Here is a quote, "The distorted claims of National-Religious (modern-orthodox) women's groups that have joined Reform circles to wage a joint campaign against the Rabbinical batei din and the dayanim who act in accordance with halacha, on account of the alleged "thousands of agunot" and "ongoing foot dragging in resolving their plight" have been exposed as grossly exaggerated and misleading and in fact, altogether groundless." Misleading? Let's see, first the author attempts to shame these Modern Orthodox women by putting them in the same category as (gasp!) Reform circles, thereby juxtaposing them with the dayanim (judges) who they say are acting in accordance with halacha.
Liberal readers might immediately write off this source because it comes from a Haredi perspective, but it is the Haredim who are in charge of the Batei Din, and thereby able to dictate the status of these women. Because there is no civil divorce in Israel (a divorce can only be granted by the Batei Din), it is imperative for those fighting for change to educate people (especially Halachic, Religious Jews) on the gross inequality of the Jewish court system, as it pertains to agunot. As many in the Religious world see it, the Rabbis are acting according to the letter of the law. And, in fact, they are. Just as people claim that they murder or steal in G-d's name, and are able to select Biblical quotes in their defense. What is missing here, and what these people are failing to see, is the complete disregard for the spirit of the law. In this day and age, is it still "lawful" to keep women chained to a marriage they want out of?
Furthermore, it is not only the judges or the Haredi system who are to blame. It is everyone who upholds this system. For instance, I know of two fairly progressive Rabbis who once worked on my behalf trying to convince my ex-husband to give me a get. But in the end, they stopped being a part of things in fear that their names would be blemished in the "Torah World" because of their involvement in my case. There are also many people who think it is lashon hara (slander) to tell people when a man is withholding a get, when in fact it is deemed necessary to do so by Jewish Law. Many people, even ones who know that the system is outdated, fear going up against the religious establishment because they feel that no matter what, the Rabbis should be the ones to make change, not the people, and certainly not the women. I was even at a Shabbat meal, where on the topic of agunot, one very learned woman said, "I know it's a terrible thing, but the Rabbis aren't heartless, they have wives and daughters, they must have good reason for not changing the laws."
This woman, who I otherwise respect, has it all wrong. In this time between Purim and Pesach, where we are bookended by Esther and Miriam – two strong, independent women who took it upon themselves to literally change the course of Jewish History, it is especially salient for us to realize our role and abilities to create our own fate. It is not cynicism that leads me to say this, or even feminism, but rather, and quite simply, humanism -- the Rabbis are not changing the laws because it is a patriarchal institution, and it does not behoove them to take the power out of men's hands. Despite my experience, I do however, consider myself very lucky. Because of the strong support of my family and friends, and because I have been blessed with strength and independence, I was able to have my own divorce ritual. Obviously, I still would not be able to get married again according to halacha, but I consider myself divorced, and anyway because of what I have borne witness to, I would not get married under the auspices of the Rabbinate again. However, there are at least hundreds of women who live in strictly Religious communities, usually with a number of young children, and typically the victims of some sort of abuse, who must endure years of being chained to their marriage. In fact, I remember reading two summers ago, how a mother of four in Mea Shearim committed suicide by jumping off her balcony. The stated reason for her suicide was her inability to cope with the strain of being an agunah. It is in our power to ensure that no woman anywhere feels that kind of hopeless desperation again.
This is your new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.