Times have changed. The ketubah, the ancient Jewish marriage contract, was once a revolutionary document drawn up to protect women. If a woman wanted out of a bad marriage, she could obtain a Jewish divorce, or get, with the help of the local rabbi. In Europe, if a man refused to give his wife a get once ordered to do so by the local rabbinic court, the threat to turn him over to the authorities could be enough to convince him to free his wife, thus preventing her from becoming agunah (chained) and allowing her to remarry. Today in Israel, a man can be put in jail for get refusal; yet there are still many husbands who refuse to give their wives a get.
Last week in the United States, after protests and pleading failed to move Aharon Friedman, a get refuser, a campaign was launched to post on the Facebook page of his employer and pressure him into giving a get and freeing his former wife, Tamar Epstein. That employer just happens to be US Congressman Dave Camp. There were so many messages that public posts on the page were restricted. With no response to the Facebook campaign, an online petition and email campaign were launched and are gaining support quickly.
However, there is a way to avoid the tragedy of chained women.
“Every word you heard here is true,” declared Rabbi Chaim Wasserman of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel last week, referring to the harrowing story of one of the women featured in a powerful documentary that chronicles the scourge of get abuse in America and Israel. The film, “Women Unchained,” was screened at the OU Center in Jerusalem last week by the Council of Young Israel Rabbis and the Givat Sharett Simcha Gemach.
Rabbi Wasserman and Dr.Rachel Levmore, a rabbinical court advocate who specializes in cases of iggun and get-refusal, spoke to a packed room following the screening to urge everyone, especially the young girls in the audience, to sign halakhic prenuptial agreements before they marry. Such agreements can prevent the extortion and suffering that often occur when a woman wants a divorce from her husband and the husband, for greed or vengeance, refuses to grant it. The agreement for mutual respect can also be signed post-nuptial.
Narrated by Mayim Bialik (best known for her portrayal of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in “The Big Bang Theory”), with an original score by Grammy-winning guitarist C. Lanzbom, “Women Unchained” is a gripping and informative ride through the perils of Jewish marriage in the modern era. “Women Unchained” details “get-o-nomics” — the extortionate cost of buying a husband’s compliance, the link between domestic violence and get abuse, outlandish schemes involving hit-men, and the corrosive impact of get abuse on children.
These seminary girls in the audience smiled for a photo. They hopefully will follow the valuable advice offered and help bring this tragic phenomenon to an end.