Jewish Divorce: Get Abuse

Failing to give a get is a type of domestic abuse.

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Reprinted with permission from JOFA,The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Why do "religious" men refuse to cooperate in a religious divorce? In the best of all possible worlds, we would all live happily ever after and there would be no divorce. In that world, in the rare instance that divorce became a necessity, both parties would willingly and amicably cooperate in the proceedings. But we do not live in that best of all possible worlds. Divorce is at times necessary, and at other times, desired by one party or the other. Often divorces are contested and contentious and, frequently, much time and anguish are expended on coming to terms and resolving matters in civil courts as well as in rabbinic tribunals.Men refusing to give a get exhibit a form of domestic abuse.

The Jewish Law of a Get

Jewish law does not recognize the granting of a "no fault" divorce as a right of either the husband or the wife. In other words, just because one party wants a get does not mean that the other party must cooperate. And in most cases, a get me'useh, a compulsory divorce, is not valid. Certainly, if both parties are in agreement, a bet din will not stand in the way of their separation and will facilitate their religious divorce.

However, where only one party wants the get, Jewish law, only in rare cases, will obligate the other party to cooperate (chayav le-garesh). At other times it encourages cooperation (mitzvah legaresh). But mostly it does not grant the authority or provide the mechanism to do either.

Details of the situations in which a get can be coerced are outlined in the Shulhan Arukh, Even Ha-Ezer, chapter 154. The list includes specific circumstances in which it is either personally or religiously impossible for one party to live with the other. But the list is a limited one and does not include many of the situations confronted in our modern age. And if the situation is not found on this narrow and limited list, a beit din will refrain from coercion (ibid: 154:21).

With that as background, we return to our question: why do some "religious" men refuse to cooperate in get procedures?

Halakha is Not the Issue

Although there may be technical halakhic excuses for not cooperating in the get process, to my mind the essential issue is not the halakha. In my opinion, even if the Talmud or Shulhan Arukh does not obligate or even encourage the delivery of a get, once a couple has stopped living together as husband and wife, and that decision is final, delivering a get is the only moral and just thing to do. And if despite counseling and therapy, despite negotiations and arbitration, and despite attempts at reconciliation, one party wants out of a marriage, the other party, in all good conscience, should not endlessly persist in demanding shalom bayit (harmonious domestic reconciliation). And you should not need a Talmud or a Shulhan Arukh to tell you that!

A get was never meant to be used as a husband's tool to gain concessions in divorce proceedings. A woman should not have to "buy" a get by compromising on a financial settlement or on her relationship with her children. Yet, too often, this is what happens. And no halakhic pilpul justifies this! At times, as acrimony and disagreements enter the divorce proceedings, the delivery of a get is transformed from a mitzvah (an affirmative religious act) into a to'eivah (a negative abomination).

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Rabbi Mark Dratch

Rabbi Mark Dratch is the founder and director of Jsafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment.