by a Crown Heights father
A series of tragic events involving a Crown Heights family has started an important conversation about Agunah and the halachic implications of a Jewish Divorce.
I have been following the articles and the comments online hoping to see a voice I related to. What I found instead was the voice of people who fought emotionally and projected their own feelings about divorce and Agunahs on this particular situation. I had been waiting to read a voice of reason and an explanation why the community at large did not support the ‘Agunah March’ last Sunday.
I wanted to bring another perspective.
Divorce brings out the absolute worst in people. During divorce, most people do things, say things, think things, and feel things that they’ve never done, said, thought, or felt before, and that they will never do, say, think, or feel in the future. Almost all of them involve at some point (usually at many points) an exchange of harsh, bitter, hurtful words.
Yes. There are some terrible men out there. There are men who withhold the Get in order to maintain control over their wives. There are real Agunahs who are or have been waiting years to be freed of their marriage. Those Agunahs we should and do rally around.
Unfortunately, the word ‘Agunah’ has been used and abused by women who are not satisfied with the direction of the divorce agreements. She calls herself an Agunah in order to to rally support with the intention of shaming and bullying the husband in efforts to get the upper hand in the proceedings.
These women are hurt and they want to get their own back through the children, money or both. They are determined to ensure the husband is as much divorced from his children as his wife. Most family lawyers agree that the wife holds most of the cards in a divorce case.
A divorced friend of mine found himself feeling completely powerless when his wife suddenly moved from one city to another with their two sons. “She did not tell me,” he said. “One day she just stopped answering the phone. Until then I had been seeing my sons every weekend.”
By the time the case reached court, the kids were already settled in a new school. The judge admitted that what the woman had done was illegal, but because it was in the best interests of the children to be with their mother, he did nothing.
“She had got away with kidnapping my children,” said the father. His relationship with his sons has all but broken down. Their new home is too far for them to come to him. When he goes to see them, he has to stay in a hotel. “The children get bored in an hour or two,” he says. “They have their friends and their sports, which they would rather do instead.”
He tells me he finds the situation “so painful. I try to play the role of a father – but how can I when I have been deliberately moved to the outside edge of their lives?”
This is just one example. According to research, within 2 years of divorce, half of fathers lose contact with their children. The situation leaves many men distraught. They describe the loss of their children as an emotional amputation.
The men are not immune. They have feelings and innate parental rights. Being a lousy husband does not mean you deserve to have those parental rights taken away.
Researcher reports that divorced men have higher rates of mortality, substance abuse, depression, and lack of social support. Statistics show divorced men are 8 times more likely than divorced women to commit suicide.
Of course, in all this there is only one real victim – the children.
I have unfortunately seen many friends go through the process of divorce. Some were able to handle it amicably and set aside their differences for the best interest of the children. For others was just a bloody mess.
Every case needs to be judged independently. We can’t just slap a label and jump to conclusion on any particular divorce or Get proceeding (civil or Jewish) as long as it is within the process of the courts and or Bes Din.
Women suffer in a divorce. Men too suffer in a divorce.
Just as the woman has a right to a Get, the man has a right to go through the process of dissolving the marriage and giving the get.
Every Agunah is our sister and every man going through a divorce is our brother. So long as they both are complying with the courts and Bet Din he deserves the same respect and support as the woman involved.
We are a community. We are a family.