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Friday, April 08, 2005

Chained Women (Longish Post)

I have to say, just when I thought JWB had gone past the point of no return and had completely lost his way, he posted on a topic that I feel very strongly about. The plight of agunot in the jewish community has always been distressing to me. I have much to say on this issue, and I will have to save some of my thoughts for another post or another day, but just a few points.

The issue of agunot has come up recently in my community because of two cases:
1) A local man who is a well-known promoter of jewish music has been denying his wife a get for some years. Somehow, though, the local jewish newspaper printed a front page ad for a benefit concert with this promoters name fron and center. There was also a front page article (really an advertorial - something this editor does too often, making him hard to take seriously), lauding said promoter for his commitment to the jewish community. When the editor was brought up short on this by various people, he shrugged off the blame, basically saying "don't blame me, blame the school who hired him to promote the concert". MOChassid has more details. What I find appalling here, is obviously the lack of accountability for those who support these kinds of men. Here is a man(the editor) who is in a position to help a woman and her children, but instead he refuses to admit that he is doing just the opposite.

2) A local eatery is owned by a man who was apparently employing his brother as manager of the store. This brother of his was denying a get to his wife. Evidently, the owner of the restaurant was contacted by rabbanim telling him to stop supporting his brother, but he refused. E-mails were circulated and phone calls were made to inform members of our community that one way we could help put pressure on this man to give his wife a get was to stop eating in his brother (and employer's) restaurant. Somehow, when I informed various friends and relatives of this, they were reluctant to stop eating there, for various reasons. Some because they can't give up their daily coffee from there (!), others because they feel that they "dont know the whole story". I feel the latter are infinitely more dangerous. There can be no details of the story to mitigate the fact that the man is denying a get to the woman. These facts are black and white. A man can never use a get as a bargaining chip. Period. No matter what other side of the story there is. Take any issues you have up in the civil courts.

What is similar about both these instances, and what gets me so steamed about them, is that here is an opportunity for people to help these women, but instead they either ignore the problem or bend over backwards to explain why it isn't their responsibility.


Having had a good friend who was an aguna for some time, all I can tell you is that it most definitely is each and every person's responsibility. To the people who say: "Why does the editor of the paper have to get involved in this?", my answer is : "Because he is in a postion to help by boycotting ads for any concerts using this promoter." To the people who say: "Why is it my responsibilty to stop eating in that restaurant?" or worse, "What does this have to do with the restaurant owner, why can't he employ his brother?", my answer is: "Because if you continue to give this guy business, he can continue to pay his brother's salary, and his brother will continue to deny his wife a get because there are no real ramifications". If I had a dime for every stupid, head-in-the-sand comment I got about this issue, I'd have enough money to pay off all these guys to release their chained wives. But I don't get a dime. I just get really pissed off. And right now that's not helping anyone. More to come.

(And yes, I know that plenty of women are guilty of using things like child custody as bargaining chips, but that still does not give these men the right to deny gittin to their wives. And that is for another day.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudos to you on this well-written post. Unfortunately, I do not see a lot written about this topic in the Jewish blog world. I would love to know more. Is there an online listing of some sort of these husbands? Any more information I can get would be appeciated. Keep your posts on this topic coming!

11:50 PM  
Blogger Moishe said...

There is something about the animosity surrounding most divorces that cause both the agunot and the child custody/visitation issues. It is really the only way for one spouse to exert control or try to continually hurt the other. As abhorrent as it is, it appears that these feelings (if not actions) are common. The question, and you show your feelings, is if the community must be involved in the resolution. If they pressure for the get should they not also pressure (in appropriate cases) for equal rights for the man (i.e.: custody/visitation)? And if the man does give a get during a battle over other issues, then he has no bargaining position. Can you, in this society, really separate the religious and the civil actions in the divorce? But then, if he is witholding a get just to withold it, well, that is abhorrent.

10:12 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I don't disagree that the child custody issues are important ones. Hence my disclaimer at the end of the post. However, the use of the get as a bargaining chip for financial payoffs has unfortunately become accepted practice for divorcing men of a certain ilk. Lest you think I am exaggerating, I know from first-hand accounts that there exists a charity fund in NY that has, to date, freed somewhere in the vicinity of 20 agunot (as of my last discussion with this person) by raising money from the community to pay off these men in exchange for a get. My fear is that this will be come the hottest new get-rich-quick scheme for these men who may feel they have nothing to lose. So again, I'm not excluding the plight of the men who are being abused by their wives in a similar fashion. I do maintain, though, that the get issue IS a black and white one, at the very least from a halachic standpoint.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father has been accused by my mother of withholding a get.

A gut reaction to this is to say.. tar & feather him.

However.. I think he's actually right in having not given her a get yet. Yes, heretical. Yes, against anyone's gut to say there's no reason.

See.. they aren't divorced yet, civilally.

Now.. if you hold out on the get to get a payment.. you're scum. If you hold out for child issues.. you're scum. Etc.

But to say that you'll hand over the get the day that the divorce is final? I'm not sure how that if is anything other than normal.

Now.. I could see it if he was pressuring her to accept a lower settlement.. he isn't. The judge will determine everything, because the disagree on valuation, etc. Oh, all the kids are over 18, so that's no issue.

So... every once in 5000 or whatever it may be.. there might be another side to the story.

I volunteer to help and do anything possible for any agunah, but someone should at least vet the stories... I'm curious if ya'll agree...

1:19 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I don't disagree that there is the one in 100 story that is different. In both of the stories I mentioned, however, rabbanim from many different communities had confirmed that these men were witholding gittin and that everything in the community's power should be done to pressure them. So, yes, I do agree that there should be more to go on than the say-so of an estranged wife or ex-wife.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just stumbled on this old post. I sadly must disagree -- something I never thought I 'd do. Myfriend has been agonizing ovrer his marriage practically since the first day he was married. He, after making a mess of his marriage just by being angry and inflexible about typical events in a marriage realized his mistake and tried to change the mess he'd made by giving a serious effort to be in therapy and to reconcile. his wife would have none of that, being too hurt, and demanded a divorce. i know my friend was reluctant to do so, but was committed to making sure the divoirce would be amicalb eand quick for all those involved.

His wife did too, until theywent to a bes din which allowwed his wifes family to buffalo him, black mail him, and ambush him. He dug his heels in and demanded they agree to a number before he gives a get. He has no demands, except that they agree to a number before he gives up his one trump card. Despite numerous settlements, they continuously up the numbers, pile on the accusations, have taken his to civil court, and spread vicious lies about him in his home community. all throughout, my friend acknowledges that his imaturity caisued te problem and s wiling to seek help and reocnciliation. There is no effort on the other sde to do that --only to ruin his life and make him pay.

so my frined, although it kills him t do so, holds fast to his get, the only leverage he has left against a vile family that is hell bent on ruining him. Would you do any different?

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the complicity of rabbonim in this problem.

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