Women will begin saying ‘no’ to the chuppah

The beth din’s stance on get coercion is protecting abusive men, and we won’t take it for long

September 24, 2021 12:50

Being a parent is a joyful but anxious experience. You worry about your children’s health, their social lives and education. Most of all, you worry about their happiness.

As a Jewish mother, I have an additional fear for my girls.

My kids are still teenagers and marriage is the furthest thing from their minds. But realistically, they could be standing under a chuppah in under a decade. What if — heaven forbid — one of their marriages doesn’t work out, and their husband won’t give them a get, a Jewish divorce?

They could be trapped in unhappy marriages for years, their young lives over before they have begun. Because the way the Jewish divorce system works right now, they would be completely dependent on the goodwill of their former partners to free them from their marriage.

And while the vast majority of men behave honourably, there is a frightening number of cases where they vindictively trap their wives in dead marriages.

It’s easy to believe that “this wouldn’t happen to my daughter — she would only ever marry a good person”. Sadly, it’s a delusion. Many of us know too many discerning, capable, kind women who have made mistakes in their marriage and been in this exact scenario.

And it’s easy to believe that “the beth din would never let this happen, because the dayanim are good people”. Another delusion. Jewish courts routinely let these situations drag on interminably, in many cases showing zero urgency, creativity and empathy to the women thus trapped.

So if you’re a married woman, please understand: If things go sour, this could happen to you. And it could happen to my girls, and your daughters, sisters, aunts and mothers as well, because that’s the Jewish marriage system. And there won’t be a damn thing they’ll be able to do about it, if their former partner doesn’t fancy giving them a divorce.

Of course I want my children to have Jewish marriages, so they can build Jewish homes and live fulfilling Jewish lives. Judaism is one of the driving forces in my life, and I hope that as adults, my children will share those values.

But I have to be honest. Increasingly, I am frightened of them undergoing a Jewish marriage ceremony.

No responsible parent can feel completely comfortable with their children signing a legal document that could potentially entrap them in an unhappy and even abusive union with no recourse.

The chuppah is dangerous for modern women. It’s against this background that I’ve been following the latest Jewish divorce saga with mounting horror.

New statutory guidance proposed by the government includes “get refusal” as a form of domestic abuse, allowing prosecution of men who deny their wives a Jewish divorce.

However, the rabbis have determined that men will feel coerced to give the get if they feel the threat of prosecution — thereby invalidating it, because according to Jewish law, the get must be given of a man’s free will.

Now, the beth din could apply a less maximalist approach to what constitutes “coercion”.

Other fixes involve the beth din becoming more efficient at compelling a man to give a get (which is within its power).

Or the dayanim could rethink the Jewish divorce process entirely, adapting it to the legal position of Jews in modern societie. But despite multiple proposals by reputable rabbis, no beth din has had the courage or wisdom to do this.

Instead, Jewish courts have been manoeuvring to restrict the use of this tool by abused Jewish women.

Last week, they responded to a public consultation on the legislation by proposing that parties should be told to liaise with them before prosecutions go ahead.

I personally heard Dayan Jonathan Hool of the Federation beth din admit that he had proactively delayed a man from giving his wife a get because the threat of prosecution hung over this head — showing how this power would be used in practice.

The rabbis may mistakenly believe that they are acting to protect Jewish women by ensuring that their gets are valid.

Instead, it looks like they’re protecting abusive men. As a result, they’re undermining the very concept of Jewish marriage, by making an already risky proposition even less attractive.

Women are going to start saying “no” to the chuppah. This isn’t an edgy prophecy; in Israel, the discussion is already well underway in religious women’s groups online, particularly among the more knowledgeable women, because they understand the issues best of all.

If there’s no confidence in Jewish divorce, there can be no confidence in Jewish marriage. Britain’s dayanim are making this happen.

September 24, 2021 12:50

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