International Agunah Day – Once Again

The following is a short but passionate article about the Friedman case, a divorce that involved a non cooperative husband who refuses to set his wife free (circa 2012). 

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Posted by jofa

Stating that the agunah problem -in the United States, Europe and Israel - has not been resolved in the past year would be an understatement. Although significant progress has been made in Israel in the increased signing of the Israeli Agreement for Mutual Respect, which is a preventive step that has gained recognition among the Israeli rabbis, there have been no systemic solutions implemented to resolve agunah cases which exist. Moreover, at least in the US, the agunah problem has moved out of cloistered Jewish circles and is becoming part of general knowledge of non-Jews.

Witness the high-profile case of the get-refusal Aharon Friedman. Mr. Friedman's refusal to grant Ms. Tamar Epstein a get has been reported on the pages of various Jewish-American publications and even more devastating for Jewish society, in the general media: The NY times, YouTube, Facebook, Huffington Post, etc. This case is having a negative effect on public opinion of Orthodox Jews in the United States, as it has engendered debate among talkbackers as well as high-level government officials. For Mr. Friedman is no ordinary Orthodox Jew, nor is his case an ordinary case of get-refusal. Aharon Friedman is a professionally respected lawyer who works as an adviser to the powerful Congressman Dave Camp-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Congressman Camp has been inundated with newspaper articles, letters and especially posts on his Facebook page - all calling upon him to persuade Aharon Friedman to do the right thing and give Ms. Epstein a get. It has been repeatedly pointed out that Friedman's behavior is abusive and unbecoming for one who works at such a high level of government.

Nor is the Friedman case an ordinary case of get-refusal from the religious point of view. Albeit, after too long a period of time passed, but nontheless, the highly respected Beth Din of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada issued a Declaration of Contemplation (seruv) against Mr. Friedman. Following that, the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington (The Rabbinical Council) issued a letter addressed to the members of the Jewish community to exclude him from membership, prayers, etc. The rabbis did everything that they could to help Tamar Epstein.

The community has also attempted to extricate this agunah from her bonds. From several demonstrations (attended by laypersons, rabbis and politicians) organized by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, through press articles, to an online petition and facebook campaigns - a significant amount of time, money and effort has been spent. And yet, Aharon Friedman still refuses the give the get to Tamar Epstein (as of this writing).

What can we learn from this? The agunah problem is so bad that even when the rabbis have done all they think they can at this point, it is not effective. The shrugging-off of rabbinic authority by the get-refusal is so easy that the Jews in the Diaspora are turning to the "goyim" for help. Society outside of the Jewish community is looking on, commenting as to the futility of continued belief "in such an archaic system" - to quote the words of the talkbacks. Is this indicative of a successful Jewish community ?! Quite the contrary. The Orthodox Jews are demonstrating that they can not take care of their own problems. Emotional and religious wife-abuse is taking place and no one can stop it. Moreover, the "right to pursue happiness" and straightforward human rights are being trampled by the get-refusers.

There may be those that say-it is not necessary for us to justify our laws to outsiders. That may be true: but what about those on the inside who suffer? This situation is a bi-lateral Hillul Hashem - both without and within.

We have reached a more intense level of need which must be addressed by the rabbis and the community. Raising our voices has not sufficed. All must not only raise their voices but must consolidate actions to put an end to the modern-day agunah problem. There are steps which can and must be taken, both by the community and by its rabbinic leaders. If the Rabbis are not aware of them, then demands should have made them go forth, study and take action. Just ask your rabbi.

 

Rachel Levmore, Ph.D. Talmud Bar Ilan University, is a rabbinical court advocate; Coordinator of the Agunah & Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis & the Jewish Agency; Author of Minee Einayich MeDim'ah on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal and a member of the JOFA