We live in a world in which most issues are just not one way or the other. Most things aren’t just black or white — there are a lot of shades of gray in between. And we need to navigate those gray areas. But there are a few issues that are actually not complicated and really are as simple as black or white, right or wrong.
One of the latter is the issue of gett refusal.
There’s a story told about Rabbi Akiva Eiger. He was approached about a case in which a husband was refusing to give his wife her gett (Jewish writ of divorce) and leaving her trapped in a marriage. Rabbi Eiger warned the husband that the wife would be freed in one of two ways — either the husband will give her the gett or the husband will die. The husband laughed and walked away… and then dropped dead.
As much as I agree with the general concept, I find that story a bit sad. The husband could’ve redeemed himself, given his wife her gett, and moved on, and he didn’t.
There’s another story that my husband told me about Rabbi Jeremy Stern, leader of ORA (Organization for the Resolution of Agunot). He once had a known gett refuser come to his shul and he insisted that the man leave. He told him that as long as he didn’t give his wife her gett, he was not welcome. However, once he did give his wife her gett, he would not only be welcome, but Rabbi Stern would allow him to daven for the Amud. This man did give his wife her gett and when he came back, Rabbi Stern was true to his word. Not only did he allow the man to daven for the Amud, but he gave him a proud “Yeyasher Kochachah.”
That’s a story I like- people doing the right thing.
The issue of Agunot has been in my social media feed a lot lately. And I’m not happy about that because it means that the issue is still there. No one deserves to be trapped in any way, including in a marriage that they don’t want. I would say that I regret not being at the rallies that are advertised on my feed because I do wish I could go, but what I really regret is that we need them in the first place.
My friend Shoshanna Keats- Jaskoll came up with 5 ideas, all within halacha, that would help the Agunah crisis. Of course, I agree with all of them but I think there’s one that stands out the most for me: the fact that gett refusal is abuse.
Yes, my fellow Jews, GETT-REFUSAL IS ABUSE. No ifs, ands, or buts. And no gray areas. It really is as simple as right vs. wrong.
If all Jews and Jewish communities accept this as a universal concept, it will allow us to combat the issue better. As a family, a community, a nation, we Jews do not tolerate abuse. We’re not supposed to — our Torah doesn’t allow it. And by accepting that gett-refusal is abuse, we can eliminate one major hurdle- the idea that there’s another side to it. There are those who say that the gett-refusing husband has his side too. But if we accept that gett-refusal is abuse, we can make clear that even if he had a side before, he forfeited that side and all the sympathy that might have come with it once he refused to give the gett.
There are those who talk about a husband who is abused and manipulated by the wife. That kind of abuse does happen in both Jewish and secular cultures and it’s entirely wrong. But if we accept that gett-refusal is abuse, then once the husband refuses to give the gett, then he goes from victim to abuser. From good guy to bad guy. No sympathy from me or anyone else. But once he gives the gett, he gets his side back and I’m willing to listen.
As I write this, it’s just before Pesach. We, women, are the ones who kept the faith and brought about Yetziat Mitzrayim when we were freed from the trap of slavery. Now, I hope that this Pesach will be the one in which all Agunot can celebrate their freedom.
Yes, my fellow Jews. It really is that simple.