By Layah Lipsker –
David* was long divorced from his first wife and the mother of his 10- year-old daughter. Neither were Orthodox and they never received a get, or Jewish divorce, after the marriage ended. But years later, David needed a get, as his new girlfriend would not consider marriage without it. His ex-wife, still angry about their custody arrangement, refused his request to appear before the Boston Rabbinical Court. More than a year has passed, but she will not participate in the get process. Sadly, David is a victim of get refusal, a uniquely Jewish form of domestic abuse. His life is on hold, awaiting his ex-wife’s decision to grant him a Jewish divorce.
David’s is one of the many cases we deal with at the Boston Rabbinical Court, where I serve as a get advocate, assisting in cases of Jewish divorce. Get abuse is the refusal to grant or receive a writ of Jewish divorce in a Rabbinical Court. Without a get, a Jewish man or woman cannot remarry in a Conservative or Orthodox ceremony and children from a subsequent marriage may be considered illegitimate by Jewish law.
David’s story serves as a poignant cautionary tale for two reasons. Firstly, get abuse victims have historically been women, not men. However, the cases we see at the Boston Rabbinical Court speak to a new trend. Many of those refusing to participate are women. Men are increasingly at risk for get abuse.
Second, David’s story is a reminder that all Jewish couples considering divorce should obtain a get along with their civil divorce, regardless of their level of observance of affiliation. One can never predict the future and the lack of a get can become a hindrance to a new life.
Today is Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther. It also marks International Agunah Day, with the purpose of publicizing the plight of agunot, In my work as a Research Associate at the HBI and a part of the new Boston Agunah Taskforce, I have seen too many men and women suffer. Their children are affected too, as the fighting escalates. Get abuse is on the rise in every segment of our Jewish community. Over the years, I have noted that those who added a provision requiring get compliance to their civil agreements were able to avoid issues of get refusal later. When possible, we now advise couples to ask their attorneys to insert language into their settlement agreements, requiring that a get is assured before the civil divorce is finalized. Although a Rabbinical Court will not issue a get before the civil divorce, the get procedure can begin and most details can be attended to.
Making the civil divorce contingent on compliance with a religious divorce, is an important tool towards ending get abuse. To that end, the Boston Agunah Taskforce, in partnership with the HBI, is launching a new public awareness campaign called GetReady, with the goal of reaching out to divorcing couples and their attorneys to educate them on the get process. Drafting the right language for use in divorce proceedings can be tricky, as the language has to be acceptable in probate courts, as well as by the Rabbis in the religious courts. GetReady has gathered an advisory board at the HBI that includes a family court and probate judge, Rabbi Aryeh Klapper of the Boston Rabbinical Court, divorce attorneys, Agunah activists, and legal scholars.
Amanda Clayman, a partner at Katz & Stefani, is part of the advisory board. “Adding a provision requiring get compliance into your secular settlement agreement can help ensure you are able to obtain a religious get and have the freedom to which you are entitled,” she says. “I have personally had cases where a secular provision was used to ensure a woman received her get.”
We don’t know how long David will have to wait for his get, and the right to marry the woman he loves in a Jewish ceremony. But last week, I witnessed the joy of a woman who will be receiving her get after two painful years. Rabbi Joseph Polak, Chief Rabbi of the Boston Bet Din, reminded her that Jewish law ensures our right to personal autonomy and our ability to begin anew. Get abuse tramples on those fundamental human rights.
Join us at the HBI in launching GetReady, a public awareness campaign to help protect both men and women from Get abuse. If you are interested in learning more about GetReady, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Get process, please visit our website at getyourget.com.
*Names and some details were changed to protect anonymity.