Nameless at the divorce court

The process of  ending a marriage should be handled with sensitivity, argues a recent divorcee 


Wedding cake spouses turning their backs to each other for emerging problems

August 31, 2021 14:49
If not giving a get is tantamount to abuse, then I think it’s time that the authorities took a step back and seriously reviewed the process of receiving the get. I’m not talking about changing halachah — I’m talking about considering the emotional and physical state of the woman.  Let me tell you my story.
I arrived at the offices of the Beth Din earlier this year when we were in lockdown, so a mask as well as a hat was mandatory.  I had been emailing with the secretary at the Beth Din for a number of months so you would think they might have had an idea of my name.  Sadly, the carelessness and indifference started with the greeting from the security guard.  I gave my name and he promptly and aggressively told me I had no appointment. 
Having established the time of the appointment he then gave my husband’s last name and told me that was the name I should have given on arrival. I have never changed my name. I explained that was clearly my appointment but since he wanted to ensure I was the right person he required to see a copy of my driving licence which has no mention of my husband’s last name. What’s the point of asking for ID if you are not going to take identification seriously? 
I had arrived with my business partner and the security guard gruffly explained his name wasn’t on the list and he was not allowed to enter.  I had written to the secretary 48 hours earlier to give his name as the person who would be accompanying me. She hadn’t bothered to acknowledge my email or give that information to the security guard. He wasn’t interested in seeing the email I had sent confirming the details. At my insistence, he phoned the secretary who confirmed she did have my business partner’s name and entry was allowed. There was no apology, let alone a welcome. This is how you greet a woman about to go into a serious and emotionally difficult meeting?
Next, one of the dayanim came to greet us, again using my husband’s name to address me. He apologised that “we could not use the beautiful ornate court room with the Sefer Torah but because of Covid the space was too small”.  Was any of that relevant to me or how I might be feeling?
 We entered a simple room. The dayan sat behind a table; I was told to sit on the other side. My husband’s proxy (a man doesn’t have to be present to give a get but the woman has to be there to accept it) to the left, two witnesses to the right and my business partner allowed to sit in a chair in the back of the room.  All the men were masked, I would say in their 70s and apart from the dayan had little interest in being there.
 And then the dayan addressed me by my husband’s name. I reminded him that we were in court and therefore he should at least address me by my name. He explained the get does not contain last names — is that an excuse not to know my name? And then he proceeded to ask for my ID which he closely inspected as did the two witnesses. But what’s the point of this charade if you don’t address me as the person I am? 
And then began an episode  out of Monty Python or Fawlty Towers. The two witnesses, having touched my driving licence, wanted to sanitise their hands. And for about two minutes tried to get some sanitiser out of a bottle that resolutely refused to comply — it was stuck, broken, who knows? But we all just stared at these two men pumping the bottle. Eventually my business partner stood up and handed them each some sanitiser. We could now move on. 
The get was read, the process explained, the proxy assured us all my husband had not phoned that day and was willing to grant me a get. And so the moment came when I should receive the get. But it required another two men, so they were called in — I was now surrounded by  seven men. The get was folded like origami (the dayan was well practised) so it could easily be dropped into my hands. And to show me the exact angle of my hands,  one of the rabbis and the dayan demonstrated. 
 And now it was my turn, the real thing. I stood in the middle of the room, was told my hands were too open, so I cupped them gingerly and then the following orders were pronounced as the get was dropped into my hands: “Put your hands up, put the get in your pocket, walk to the door, walk back, sit down and hand me back the get”. (Of course you don’t keep the get, you pay £695 and then get a certificate to show you are legally divorced). 
The humiliation of being pushed about, in front of the seven pairs of eyes, was really the worst moment of it all. My business partner said it was on the one hand fascinating to see the details of the ceremony but he said I was treated like a criminal, guilty of some wrong-doing. I am a strong, financially independent woman and felt demeaned and patronised. I worry for those women who already feel vulnerable and without a strong support network.
Now that the get had been given, all the men left, apart from the dayan. He was a sensible man who clearly had had experience of managing the get process. 
He said he hoped I was fine and didn’t want to pry but there were a few points of law he must go through and most importantly about when I could next marry. Officially it is 92 days but since this day and the marriage are regarded as two days, there were really 90 days left. 
But at this point he was no longer talking to me — he was talking to my business partner, telling him we couldn’t get married until 90 days were over but lots of people go to the Kotel and it’s a beautiful place to marry. 
It was the second time my business partner felt compelled to stand up. He explained we had known each other for many years and were business partners; we were not about to marry (apart from the fact that he is already married, but that seems a minor detail). Now it had been established we were business partners, the dayan was curious to know about our business. We discussed one of our operations and by the end the dayan was wondering whether the Beth Din could apply for funding!
But seriously, how can this experience be suitable for the 21st century? Again, I’m not talking about considering changing halachah. I’m talking about empathy, the understanding, that maybe other women should be present, educate a security guard so he behaves decently, hire a secretary who responds appropriately and in a timely manner.
 None of this is complicated or costly. But it does require considering a woman’s needs.
August 31, 2021 14:49

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