Beth Din has got to get serious

A women who experienced the trauma of obtaining a religious divorce casts a sceptical eye over the latest efforts to combat get-deniers

November 24, 2016 23:21

Ten years ago, I sought a religious divorce through the Kedassia Beth Din.

The experience was horrific. The dayanim and registrar didn't take my wishes or grievances into account. I felt I didn't have voice. I was humiliated.

At one point, I was asked to sign an agreement and when I started reading it, I was told to stop and just sign.

So when I heard that the London Beth Din had appointed a woman as a caseworker, I thought that maybe, finally, women would be heard.

Many months have passed since Joanne Greenaway started her role, and it is all too clear that very little progress has been made.

Last week the JC published an in-depth article about Mrs Greenaway and her work. The piece stressed that "the Beth Din can handle around 100 divorce cases at any time. It is estimated that less than 10 per cent of those are considered difficult cases when it comes to obtaining a get."

Scroll down, however, and you'll see what Manchester University's Professor Bernard Jackson has to say: "[T]hey often minimise the numbers involved by adopting a highly restrictive definition of an agunah and not taking account of cases where the wife (or her family) have already accepted the husband's extortionary conditions before coming to the Beth Din."

Who decides on the definition of an agunah? Who decides what is considered difficult? I can assure you, these decisions are not made by the women in question.

Mrs Greenaway's background is in international arbitration. She has an impressive resume but no experience in family law. One wonders if this was deliberate on the part of the Beth Din.

Since the caseworker role was created, a slew of men have been named and shamed as get-refusers. While this feels like progress, what it actually does is take the onus off the rabbis to find a halachic solution and leave it to the community to do the uncomfortable work of shunning the men involved.

There are several halachic options available to the Beth Din, but it would take bravery and a genuine will to change the status quo for them to be initiated.

In an environment where the dayanim do not necessarily empathise with the plight of the women, it is important to ask the question: whose interests are at the root of this new role of the Beth Din? Is Mrs Greenaway an advocate for women within an ancient labyrinth of culture and halachah, or is she there to advise and assist the dayanim?

It would be helpful if the Beth Din would publish data on get applications and refusals as well as their decisions. This would create an atmosphere of transparency.

We must also not forget the most vulnerable women in this story - Charedi women who use Kedassia, where the modus operandi is even more restrictive and difficult for women.

Statistics produced by The Rackman Centre at Bar Ilan University tell us that as many as one in two Charedi women will be denied a get if her marriage breaks down - the figure is one in three for non-Charedi Jewish women.

To be clear, Joanne Greenaway is doing important work under extremely difficult conditions. I do not address my questions and criticism to her. I address them to the dayanim of the Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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