How a TV documentary helped one woman get a divorce

By Jonathan Kalmus, July 30, 2009

A couple who came before the Manchester Beth Din speak anonymously in the documentary about the problems that led to the husband refusing to give his wife a get.

The 49-year-old wife, who has three children from her first marriage, claimed that her husband had become abusive when she told him she wanted a divorce and that he would give her a get only if she paid his court fees.

“The final dissolution took just a year. We gained our civil divorce in 1998. But it’s taken 11 years for the get, which was received in April at the Manchester Beth Din.

“I wanted a get from day one so we could both start afresh. I hoped to get remarried in an Orthodox shul. I hadn’t met anyone else at that stage, and neither had he. To me it was part of the whole divorce.

“He held on to the get because, in his own words, ‘It’s something I’ve got and you want.’ He was clinging on to something, it was the only power he thought he had.

“The get was always in the background, but never stopped me getting on with my life. I didn’t think the get was an issue. I discussed it with the people I went out with.

“With one relationship it was a contributing factor to it breaking up. I’m glad, because now I’ve met the right person.

“I was their longest running case at the Beth Din. They contacted me about a Channel 4 documentary. They said they had been approached by a documentary maker and asked me if I would take part. My ex thought I was lying about the programme, but the Beth Din told him it was true, and that encouraged him [ex] to go ahead with the get.

“He was going to give the get before the New Year. My fiancé decided to propose in the meantime, but it took another four months of coaxing my ex-husband.

“He said he would give the get with the programme, and then went back on that. I’d given up, but the Beth Din were very supportive.”

Between two separate filming sessions, the woman became engaged — and also received her get.

She said she took part “because I thought it was important to give other women some hope. The filming was quite therapeutic. I’d never discussed it at that depth or length before.

“I didn’t do it to get at my ex-husband. My message was to keep trying, and don’t give up.”

Dayan Yehudah Osher Steiner, who deals with gittin at Manchester Beth Din, said: “I joined the Beth Din nine years ago. When I came here I didn’t know what hit me. I was a young fellow and involved in these issues. The case of Mrs X went on for so long because she wanted to do the right thing too much. She was being too nice and didn’t want to antagonise or be pushy. It’s a very hard balance, you’ve got to get it right. But the way we sort things out, with high success, is by talking to and hearing what the husband has to say. You have to get involved personally.

“People try to use the get for a dig at what they were unhappy about, or some try to give air to their bitterness.

“If this isn’t nipped in the bud by dealing with the get at the early stages of the divorce process, it will cause agunot. The problems more often come when the get is dealt with after civil divorce.”

‘Revelations: Divorce – Jewish Style’ is on Channel 4, Sunday August 2 at 7pm

Last updated: 4:03pm, July 30 2009