The United Synagogue provides an enormous range of services, many of which are used by the wider community. In addition to running shuls, it supports welfare, youth, education, kashrut, eruv boundaries, burial and many other aspects of Jewish life.
One of the most sensitive is the get (Jewish divorce) process administered by the London Beth Din (LBD), one of a few UK Orthodox batei din and the world’s oldest.
Although we know from feedback that both women and men appreciate the care and sensitivity shown by LBD at the most delicate of times, we recognise, as with all areas of the US’s work, that there is always room for improvement.
That is why in January 2022, the US trustees, with the support of our dayanim, commissioned an external review to ascertain where the LBD’s get process could be improved.
The review was carried out independently by Dawn Freedman, a retired circuit judge, and Sarah Anticoni, a solicitor and mediator specialising in family law.
They conducted confidential interviews with women and men who had received/given a get, with members of the LBD and with other stakeholders to find out what we do well and where we can improve.
The review concentrated on three areas: improving communications and the physical experience of the get process; optimising good practice and governance of the get process; and enhancing understanding of what the LBD does and how the dayanim do it.
While emphasising that the majority of get cases proceed without problem and highlighting the empathy and sensitivity of our dayanim, the report made significant recommendations.
The persistent theme highlighted by interviewees was the need to demystify the process for users (particularly women) and to make it more transparent by improving communications and explaining at the outset the various steps that occur and the reasons for them.
The presence of few women in the process was emphasised and additional female support, including a get caseworker, was recommended.
Regarding governance, although a professional and robust process is already in place, recommendations were made to minimise paper records where electronic documentation can be used.
Enhanced engagement with external professional parties was encouraged, as was continuous professional development for all in the LBD. Importantly, an independent complaints process was recommended.
The report confirmed the importance of not linking the giving/receiving of the get with arrangements for children or finances, in line with the LBD approach.
The report also confirms that dayanim cannot facilitate a legally binding arbitration process for children or finances, as this can only be achieved by arbitrators qualified under the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators.
While some of the recommendations will take time to implement, many are already in place. A new female get caseworker was appointed last June and a bespoke LBD website will soon be launched, with extensive information on its work (including the get process).
The LBD has also reinstated its female “befriender” system, curtailed during Covid, and a befriender will be available to attend every get handover.
Feedback forms are now actively requested from all service users and will be reviewed quarterly. The recommendation for an independent complaints process is being addressed. Systematic collection of feedback from service users will enable a robust assessment of progress.
We remain committed not only to improving the get process but also to finding solutions to difficult cases and assisting those who are suffering due to get refusal.
The Office of the Chief Rabbi and the US are therefore proposing to launch a Commission on Jewish Divorce, working with the LBD to actively explore additional measures to mitigate the get refusal problem.
Nicola Rosenfelder and Barry Shaw are US trustees