By Layah Lipsker, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore in Swampscott, MA
When I was a teenager, my father, Rabbi Yankel Kranz, OBM, told me about his concern for women who do not receive a Get after their marriage is over. “If I had money,” he said, “I would print bumper stickers that said ‘Get Your Get!”
As I took up his cause and launched a new educational website, getyourget.com, I began to hear painful stories of Get Refusal.
In my work as an advocate for these women, I now work at the Boston Bet Din, supporting women as they go through the painful process of divorce. The task of educating our community about Get Refusal is a sacred one and should be done with respect and compassion for those suffering. To that end, I want to share what I have learned through my work.
The word Agunah can itself cause confusion and strife. Although, technically, women who suffer from Get Refusal may not be classical Agunot, the outcome is the same. They cannot remarry under Jewish law.
Contrary to what was stated in the op-ed by Aliza BasMenachem, this is not a situation any women should be told to tolerate. Her suggestion that women who cannot remarry should accept their lot as G-d given is akin to asking infertile women to accept their fate and not seek treatment. It is a cruel statement and should have no place in our public or private conversations regarding Get Refusal.
Get Refusal is a domestic abuse issue and must be treated as such. A man or a woman, who refuses to give or accept a Get when a marriage is functionally over, is asserting the last bit of control he/she has left. It is often the last act in a long pattern of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional.
Our community must speak out against abuse in all its ugly forms. Get refusal is on the rise, with 35,000 open documented cases in Israel, where all couples must go through the Rabbinical Courts.
I work with compassionate Rabbanim who find creative ways to fight this form of domestic abuse. In Crown Heights, however, there is no Bes Din willing to take on the more difficult cases. Like all abuse, this is a communal problem and we must face it as a community.
The only long term solution that works 100% of the time is the preventative measure of signing a Halachic prenup or postnup (www.theprenup.org). We should be encouraging our Rabbanim to learn more about them and join the many who are insisting that they are signed after the Chuppah.
But this will not help women who are currently suffering from Get Refusal. Let’s ask those women what they need and support them in every way we can. With Pesach approaching, there is no better time to discuss the journey towards freedom for those still in chains. It is not the time to take the easy path and tell people to accept their suffering.