Why we are launching a ‘rate my Beit Din’ site

A survey reveals dissatisfaction with the performance and attitude of rabbinical courts

May 23, 2022 09:47

I could fill this column with testimony gathered from our Beit Din (rabbinic court) user experience survey:

“I was forced to sign away my marital property and much more in exchange for a get.”

“He was violent. I ended up in a shelter with my child, and the court wouldn’t help.”

“They never answered my calls. If someone answered I was told they would call back and they never did.”

“After waiting nine-and-a-half hellish years, the first thing the judge said when I came for my get was, ‘Ah, today is very exciting, but first the most important thing... You have an envelope of money for me?’”

“They took a very long time to reply to each email. They were not honest. They were disrespectful and not understanding of the horrible situation I was in...I arrived at a meeting and was asked to pay without being told the charge beforehand.”

“Despite the fact that I was the only breadwinner, my ex, who claimed to be a Torah scholar and knew many of the members of the Beit Din, also admitted in court to sleeping with prostitutes. Yet none of that seemed to matter.”

“It took two years to chase the Beit Din. No email was ever answered... As a vulnerable single mother, I had to leave message after message… Only once my solicitor threatened my ex with court as a criminal did he give that get. The experience was dreadful.”

“The whole process shook me up... I felt as though I wanted to leave religious life from that experience. It was horrible.”

Courts of justice are a vital part of society in general, and Jewish society in particular. Not only are Jews told to “appoint judges and officials for your tribes in every town...” but we are also instructed to “to judge the people with righteous judgment” (Deuteronomy 16:18).

When my aunt was denied a divorce by her husband, I stood beside her in a Beit Din, where I expected to find justice. Instead I found apathy, chaos, a shocking lack of professionalism and even malpractice. It took years of advocating, begging, and enlisting people to help to free her from a man who didn’t even bother to show up to court. In the end, she waited 14 years.

Since then, I have researched the system and discovered that my aunt was not alone in her painful experience. Improving the system and returning integrity to Jewish divorce court has become a mission.

Together with GettOutUK and the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, my organisation — Chochmat Nashim — created the Beit Din Experience Survey to understand where the system, the sole path for Jewish divorce, goes wrong, and what will improve it.

We aim to reduce the pain, waiting time for a hearing and numbers of women who wait years for their freedom.

Even when both parties are in agreement, divorce is hard. When one party refuses to divorce, demands something in exchange or simply drags out the process, it is infinitely worse.

The survey results (over 200, from seven countries so far) confirmed our understanding that a focus on improving the courts would alleviate much of the suffering wrought by the way Batei Din relate to their clients.

Many participants spoke of unanswered emails and calls, of inappropriate behaviour as part of the proceedings and of the court’s inability to understand and deal with abusers.
Some women spoke of contemplating suicide. Multiple women spoke of crises of faith as a result of their experiences.

Forty-two per cent said the process affected their mental health. Forty-one per cent were pressured to somehow pay for the get (with money, custody or possessions); Thirty-nine per cent rated the respect shown by the court staff as a two or lower out of five, while 44 per cent waited a year or more for their get (18 per cent waited over three years).

These statistics do not embody the biblical injunction for justice. Yet there is no oversight or evaluation process that can monitor and seek to improve the proceedings of rabbinic courts.

The system can and must be better. Our Beit Din review site, to be released at the end of this month, is one early step. Using the survey responses, each Beit Din will be rated in multiple areas.

A Beit Din can improve its scores with shorter response times, transparency about costs, and professional training in domestic abuse, addiction, narcissism, and more.

It is our sincere hope that Batai Din will want to improve their scores, learn from those courts that have good ratings and work with us to make their courts the seats of justice they are meant to be.

May 23, 2022 09:47

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