Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Half a vote (vetoed)

Hat-tip to Brooklyn Wolf for this article.
So let me get this straight: A man can ask to have a previously-issued get (Jewish religious divorce) withdrawn, thereby causing his ex-wife's second marriage to be declared adulterous retroactively and her child(ren) from her second marriage forbidden ever to marry?
It's not bad enough that, according to Jewish law, only a man can authorize a divorce? Now, he can withdrew his authorization at will, with the support of the rabbinate?
Not for nothing is the Hebrew word for husband still "baal," master. A man acquires a woman with a wedding ring and a ketubah (marriage contract), and if he doesn't care to let her go when the marriage is dead, she's either chained to him in marriage for life or forced to pay, for her freedom to remarry, an extortion fee that can be as high as sole custody of their children. A get is nothing but a fancy term for a writ of manumission.


Blogger BrooklynWolf said...

Well, if the condition is lifelong, then the get is, in all probability, null and void from the beginning. Only a temporary condition or a fulfillable condition is valid.

In any event, the policy of allowing conditional gittin is, IMHO, a very, very bad idea.

The same effect could have been accomplished by imposing penalties on either party that violate the agreement, including monetary and possibly custodial penalties -- and without jeopardizing the second marriage and any future children that arise.

The Wolf

Wed Mar 21, 10:20:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Elie said...

I don't understand enough about this case to comment. AFAIK gittin are never issued conditionally, to avoid this very situation. So I don't understand how it could have been done in this case. The "Agunah" status is by definition before a get is issued, not after. I have to believe that the extremely anti-religious Haaretz got the facts wrong here.

That said, two other comments about halachic divorce in general. One, that this is a perfect example of an area where (rather drastic) rabbinical decrees were made to improve women's lot. The biblical law allows both polygamy and a get against the woman's will, but since the time of Rabbenu Gershom over 1000 years ago, both are forbidden. This evened the playing field significantly. All those who complain about the "sexist" Rabbis should look at this example.

Secondly, divorce is often a messy and ugly business, where you find both parties going to any lengths just to hurt one another. It's a very sad reality that even halacha, which is designed to make divorce relatively painless and equitable, can't prevent a lot of the pain and unfairness that often occur (towards both parties). In the absence of an empowered Sanhedrin, we will continue to see rancorous people circumventing the spirit of the law while using the letter as a fig-leaf. I know this will be at the top of the moshiach's agenda to straighten out, may it happen speedily in our days!

Wed Mar 21, 02:16:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont know enough about gittin(plural of get) to say something intellegent on the issue. However, the thrust of much legal theorizing is to keep from declaring a child a mamzer, and I would be very surprised if a bet din would willingly put kids into that situation. I agree with those who posit that conditional gittin are a very very bad idea. Without knowing more about the situation, it is hard to say more.


Wed Mar 21, 08:22:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Well, certainly, the rabbis did try to even things up.

And we all agree that conditional gittin are a dreadful idea.

But my main point is that none of this would be problem if a way could be found to enable a woman to end her own marriage without her estranged husband's written permission. As long as a woman is totally dependent for her freedom on the kindness of her ex-husband, she remains the functional equivalent of a slave.

Thu Mar 22, 12:23:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Elie said...

But my main point is that none of this would be problem if a way could be found to enable a woman to end her own marriage without her estranged husband's written permission.

Granted, if a woman could unilaterally end a halachic marriage than her husband couldn't hold up the get until his demands are met. However, my point is that post-Rabbenu Gershom, a woman also has the power to refuse to accept a get until her demands are met. I personally know of divorces where this was the case, where it was the wife holding things up, often with support of a beit din. The agunah situation now cuts both ways.

Maybe this should be viewed as an even worse situation than the man having all the power? But I have to believe that at least equal power on both sides means more chance for compromise - the old Mutually Assured Destruction theory.

But not to take away from your main point. Ideally, if it were possible for one party to unilaterally sue for halachic divorce and get it, then all this would be avoided. Though this can't be done directly under halacha, I know that the pre-nups being strongly pushed by the RCA/OU effectively accomplish the same thing. Of course, those not 100% foolproof, and more importantly far from ubiquitous even a generation after their introduction. But here again, like Rabbenu Gershom a millennia ago, the Rabbis are taking bold steps in the right direction. Let's hope it continues until agunot/agunim are an artifact of the past.

Thu Mar 22, 09:39:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...


Thu Mar 22, 10:54:00 PM 2007  

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