With all the talk about the man who refuses to give his wife a get, there is a lot of bad will towards a Halacha that could embrace such an imbalance of power between men and women.
Yet, we are all forgetting one very important thing – beit din.
Halacha was never meant to operate in a vacuum without a beit din. Halacha and the beit din are like bread and butter. Hard to enjoy one without the other. Although this can be seen ina variety of ways, it is particularly poignant when it comes to disputes between husbands and wives.
The beit din understood the imbalance and as a result, served as a counterweight. They had a strong advocacy-oriented approach to women in disputes with uncooperative husbands and instituted several radical laws and standards.
For example, did you know that women had their cases heard in court before men to spare them the indignity of having to wait (Yevamot 100a)?
A man was subject to a hefty financial penalty for divorcing his wife (no pre-nups either fellas!), and a man was legally obligated to sexually satisfy his wife to the extent that she can demand a divorce and have beit din enforce it against the man’s will.
You may not like all their methods, you may not like all their laws but one thing they certainly had right – sensitivity to women’s rights in court. Along with a willingness to codify that sensitivity into law in a way that, at times, surpasses the modern western judicial system. Imagine the Supreme Court ruling on a clause in a marriage document that states, if the man refuses to be intimate with his wife, she can impose monetary and social penalties. I can already see Justice Scalia’s dissent!
Beit din had short shrift for a recalcitrant husband who used a get as a means of forcing his wife to do what he wants, gain custody of kids, or merely to trap her out of hate.
Forget about spiteful husbands- if you didn’t please your wife in bed to her satisfaction – you were forced to divorce her.
I think this is that rare instance where orthodox and secular Jews can both sigh and say, “Don’t I wish beit din were here”!