This past month, a New Jersey Appellate Court issued a monumental ruling that will now become case precedent for Agunas throughout the State. An “Aguna” is a term in Hebrew which translates to “Chained.” It refers to a Jewish woman whose husband refuses to issue her a Gett, a Jewish Divorce. If the husband refuses to issue the Gett, she remains married to him, and is “chained” until and if he decides to issue it. The New Jersey ruling intertwines the freedom of speech with the Agunah crisis that sometimes plagues our communities.
A Frum woman identified as L.B.B. in Court filings, was married to S.B.B. for nearly twenty years. After the couple separated, L.B.B. requested the Gett, and S.B.B. refused, stating that he left the Gett with the “Head Rabbi of Elizabeth (N.J.)”. L.B.B. sent a video to a Rabbinical Judge with her requests to help her procure the Gett from S.B.B. The video was somehow shared on social media, and friends and strangers began a social media campaign which was targeted to the woman’s estranged husband, demanding that he “unchain and free his wife.”
As a result of this, the husband, S.B.B., filed a restraining order in Court, telling the Judge that these social media posts were Defamatory, and that he feared for his life. As a result, the trial Judge issued a restraining order against L.B.B. stating that the social media posts violated New Jersey laws against harassment. The Judge prohibited her from using social media to speak about her desire to receive a Gett. In the ruling, the Judge also ordered her to pay over $10,000.00 in damages to S.B.B.
After the trial Judge refused to change his position, L.B.B. was forced to appeal to the New Jersey Higher Court, the Appellate Division. At this point, many prominent organizations such as the ACLU became involved. The ACLU is a known organization which focuses its efforts on the freedom of speech in America. The ACLU and other prominent organizations such as the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Sanctuary for Families, and The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, filed appellate briefs to the Court highlighting the dangers of muzzling a person’s right to speak freely.
The Appellate Court issued a unanimous reversal of the trial Court’s decision, stating categorically that a woman who is chained to a religious marriage, is allowed to openly speak about her experiences and is also allowed to seek help from her community and her friends. The 3 panel Court stated that such expression is protected by the First Amendment and its State constitutional analog. In its conclusion, the Court stated: “In sum, the Judge’s finding that the Jewish community was prone to violence against get refusers — and the implicit holding that the Defendant was aware of and intentionally availed herself of such violent tendencies — is not supported by the record,” the decision says. “The video was intended to get a Gett. The video did not threaten or menace Plaintiff, and nothing in the record suggests that Plaintiff’s safety or security was put at risk by the video.”
The case of L.B.B. highlights a surreal development in the modern age of technology. Before “Tik Tok,” “Facebook” and the like, many Agunas were left hopeless. Their message was hard to share. Many women were left “chained” sometimes forever. Now, in the digital age of social media and the like, Agunas are spreading their messages for the world to see. Communities are galvanized, and a support system is much easier. Now, for the State of New Jersey, women don’t have to feel ashamed or worried that they can’t use social media to help themselves receive a Gett. Yes, Free Speech is indeed Free, at least in New Jersey.