Zvia Gordetsky has waited 17 years to be free of the man who prefers jail to granting her a divorce. Her case is unusual because unlike what happens too often, the religious courts did nearly everything they “should” do, and still she is not free.
Normally in Israel, where the religious courts have power to punish withholders, a woman only waits for a get because the court did not order the husband to give her one. In this case, within six months of asking for a divorce, the religious court ordered Zvia’s husband to grant it. When he refused, they told him he would be put in jail. He showed up to the next hearing with a packed suitcase, ready to move into prison. Since then, he has been offered the chance to grant the divorce — and leave prison — every six months. His response is: “They won’t break me.”
That the “system” worked as it should and Zvia — who told me her story personally — is still chained, has made this case shocking to those who are used to tragic stories of get abuse. That Zvia has chosen the desperate act of a hunger strike for her freedom makes it clear that she feels everything else has failed.
Those who want to blame the religious courts — and there is often much to blame them for — cannot do so this time without asking larger questions. After all, they have gone as far as imposing sanctions to make sure the husband gives the get. That is why Zvia has asked the Knesset to get involved by passing a bill.
The proposed bill would allow the Knesset to retrospectively nullify the value of a ring given in marriage a year after the religious courts order a get to be given. Doing this would invalidate the wedding, so there would be no need for a divorce. This circumvents the recalcitrant spouse completely.
The bill has very little chance of passing, as it is being proposed by the opposition and the religious parties in the coalition are unlikely to support it.
But perhaps Zvia’s plight and action will function as a rallying cry.
There are thousands of Jewish people (mostly women) awaiting divorces. Many could be freed by using halachic principles to dissolve their marriages.
Perhaps Zvia’s story will finally prompt the Jewish community to ask itself: “Is this the best we can do?”
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a founding member of Chochmat Nashim, which raises awareness of women’s issues