The Reward of the Recalcitrant

What's the difference between the recalcitrant husband and the one who hits his wife? Not too much

Over the last two weeks, the Israeli media has discovered a new celebrity: a man who is eloquent, articulate and also quite knowledgeable in halakha (Jewish Law). This new star is also violent, manipulative and doesn’t speak the truth; this, however, only serves to turn the media horror show of sorts into something all the more interesting for the viewers and readers – especially when the protagonist is none other than the man upon whom the Rabbinical Courts have recently imposed social and halakhic sanctions because he is refusing to give his wife a get, a religious divorce.

And now to another incident that took place last week during an Israeli Rabbinical Court hearing: a violent husband physically attacked his wife’s lawyer. Yes, in front of the very eyes of the religious judges sitting in the court room, he attacked her, as she was representing his wifes quest for her get. As soon as he attacked the lawyer, the court’s security guards were called in, and the husband was immediately neutralized and detained by the police for questioning.

Unlike in the case of our recalcitrant husband who became a media darling, in this instance I heard none of my friends asking, “Why?” Why did the husband hit the lawyer? Perhaps he had just cause? Perhaps his wife’s lawyer threatened him that he would be alienated from his children? Perhaps she refused a request for joint custody? Perhaps we should hear what the violent husband has to say before expressing our utter shock at the show of violence? After all, it takes two to tango; the same goes for divorce. So maybe he had a good reason? I didn’t hear any radio interviews or TV shows dealing with the issue, nor did I hear any well-meaning MKs expressing themselves on the matter – as in the case of the recalcitrant husband. All we heard was that a violent man was handed over to the police for further questioning.

Make no mistake –refusing to grant a get is also a violent act: violence in the name of religion; violence manifest in the cynical abuse of unmatched power, where the one who holds all the power dares to use it against their own spouse.  Get-refusal is an unreasonable exercise of power which is entirely unacceptable and inappropriate on either side.  It entails denying someone of his or her freedom; in this case – the freedom of a woman.  True, it’s not as sensational as a punch to the face and leaves fewer marks on the body, but it scars the soul no less.  Husbands who refuse to grant their wives a get are, in fact, taking control of the woman’s womb and sexuality as well.  They are denying her of her basic right to forge a relationship and start a new family; they are taking control of her life against her will and turning her into a captive.

How can anybody of sound mind attempt to justify such profound abuse against a woman?  From where springs the distorted notion that dares empathize with a recalcitrant husband?  The compassionate question – “Why?” – addressed to the recalcitrant husband has only one answer:  “Because I can.”

Both the physically violent husband as well as the recalcitrant husband/media star did not transform into violent people in the Rabbinical Court.  They brought the violence with them from home.  Sometimes this violence hides behind a fancy suit; sometimes it wears jeans and a faded shirt; sometimes it belongs to a smooth talker; other times to someone who uses vulgar language, and sometimes the violence belongs to someone whose lips are well versed in Jewish Law.  Violence comes in many shapes and forms; it does not appear ex nihilo.  It therefore has no justification and no forgiveness.  Behind any act of violence there is a sick human being who needs help. Not an audience.

The media circus to which we have been witness is a social disgrace that promotes violence.  The first to pay the price was the woman who was refused her get, and then coerced into media exposure she had attempted to avoid at all cost.  She will continue to pay a heavy price because her husband chose to bark up the media tree.  But when the lights dim, the microphones go silent and the crowd disperses – only she will remain, still fighting for her freedom.

About the Author
Pnina Omer is the Director of Yad La'isha: the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center for Agunot and Mesuravot Get, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions. Yad La'isha is the largest, most comprehensive and most experienced support center for agunot in the world, providing clients with legal representation in the religious courts and the services of in-house social workers regardless of their age, background or religious affiliation.
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