Help an Agunah – Virtually

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Tamar Epstein is an agunah with an impressive list of rabbinic supporters. Her ex, Aharon Friedman, has exhausted all his legal options, both in beis din and in secular court. The divorce has been granted, but Friedman is unhappy with the way he has been treated, and is denying his ex-wife a get, trying to leverage terms more to his liking.

Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky is one of the signatories to a shtar seruv against Friedman. Rav Yisrael Belsky, who at one point was counted in Friedman’s camp, has turned against him. R Hershel Schachter has taken a personal role in applying public shame pressure against Friedman. While it is always possible to empathize with both sides in a dispute, at some point the law must speak. After a person has been given every opportunity to be heard in legal proceedings, any assistance given to the losing party is nothing less than a stab at the process of law itself. We are well past that point in the case of Aharon Friedman.

Ever since the modern state denied batei din the powers of enforcement that they had traditionally used, our halachic courts have been artificially emasculated. Halacha is “blamed” for agunos – while having both of its enforcement hands tied behind its back. In such situations, it behooves the community to use whatever legal means are at its disposal – under proper halachic guidance – to achieve the aims that beis din paskens are legitimate. Those means include shunning recalcitrant husbands, and shaming them into complying with the dictates of the court.

Aharon Friedman happens to be an aide to Congressman David Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. After many forms of appropriate societal pressure have been tried without success, a campaign is under way to pressure Friedman’s high-profile employer into applying pressure of his own. So far, the campaign seems to be working. More and more media attention is being focused on Camp. It can reasonably be assumed that the tactic may bear fruit. That is enough reason for everyone to pitch in on behalf of an agunah, and on behalf of a beleaguered halachic system that is being mocked by the actions of one person.

You can help by simply signing a petition, and urging your friends to do the same.

One day, we will merit the return of batei din that can adjudicate disputes and enforce their findings. In the meantime, when faced with tragic manipulations of halacha such as Friedman’s actions, we can daven hoshiva shofteinu ke-varishonah with greater intensity – and pitch in to campaigns like this one.

[Note: several quotes in the Foxnews story regarding changing halacha to allow for a get without the consent of a husband are beneath contempt. We can only hope that the journalist seriously misquoted the people he interviewed.]

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17 Responses

  1. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    We have received many submissions this past week regarding the Epstein/Friedman divorce and its attendant media attention. Almost all of them missed the point of the original post. Many were quite good and informative, but we are not going to post them. Here’s why:

    My position was that of a completely disinterested outsider, looking at what has become a high-profile divorce dispute. Blogs are not the place to adjudicate complicated matters of halacha, particularly those pertaining to ishus, which some poskim consider the equivalent of dinei nefashos.

    There are very few disputes in which people cannot find strong reasons to empathize with both sides, or find grievances that both parties can lay claim to. I am sure that this case is no different. Friends and family of parties to any dispute may have good reason to pursue matters as far as they can within the limits of halacha and menschlichkeit. Outsiders, however, should not be second-guessing instructions issued by a confluence of the most respected names in the Torah community in the US.

    I wish I were less cynical, and could say that it is wrong to fault the decision of any beis din. I can’t reasonably bring myself to do that. But with all the buzz after R Hershel Schachter’s article in AMI, it is important not to impugn every beis din – as R Schachter made clear in a follow-up conversation. And even if one would reject my last sentence, it would be very wrong for people to cast doubt upon the instructions (verified) of R Shmuel Kamenetsky and R Hershel Schachter – each one possessing a deserved reputation for honesty and integrity. Those who are not involved with the case ought to be listening to them. Surely bnei Torah do not want to discard all notions of authority.

    I am simply not going to devote room here to the, “yes, but” responses.

    All this said, I did respond to the requests of a number of people – talmidim and colleagues – to look into the matter a bit more. I did speak with a number of people. Among them was Aharon Friedman, with whom I spoke for about an hour. Before we started, I explained where I was coming from, but told him that as a matter of bein adam v’chaveiro I certainly would give him the time and an open-minded hearing. I am not going to share that conversation here. I will BEH follow up with a conversation with the other side.

  2. DF says:

    Disagreed thoroughly with this post. In my role as an attorney I deal often with “minorities” [who in many cases and circumstances are actually “majorities”] who have support groups or official greivance-industry groups to support their cause. When you actually examine the case you frequently see there is another BIG side to the story that just isnt being trumpeted loudly like the other side. For the same reason I’ve become very skeptical of all these “agunah” cases. I dont know this case personally, but in virtually every case in which you hear some group lobbying for the woman, there are equaly good grounds to support the grounds of the husband. You just dont hear about them, because men dont have lobby groups, and they dont present as sympathetic figure as a woman. Who’s to say Aharon Friedman isnt in the right here?

    Rabbi Adlerstein, you defend what to me seems the incredibly perverse double standard of frowning on using a get as leverage against her, but seeing no problem with using a man’s own child as leverage against him. I find this very distrurbing, but even more troubling is the rationale offered that rulings have to be offered once the parties have had their say in court. Really? What if the legal system is inherenly unfair? Well-established precedent holds that the law of dina d’malchusa dina does not apply when the government’s laws are unfair (eg, when laws are targeted against Jews.) Shouldnt the same principle obtain to the laws of divorce court, where it’s not even argued any more that they system favors the woman? [And lest you say that there was a beis din also involved, we’d have to know the particulars of the beis din. Some bottei din, most notably the Beis Din of America, are notorious for the favorable treatment they show to women over the men.]

    [YA – Maybe you indeed ought to familiarize yourself with the Batei Din and other players that were involved in this case.]

  3. Micah Segelman says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Can you quote where one can find this Rabbeinu Yerucham?

    Is it really the accepted halacha that once both parties have given up on the marriage then the get can never be used for leverage under any circumstances? For example if the woman stole assets from the husband (no connection to the present case) – can the husband then use the get as leverage to get the assets returned? What is Rabbeinu Yerucham’s position in this theoretical case and are there other positions in halacha as well?

    [YA – I can give you the cite. More than that would take a good deal of timing, looking into פסקי דין רבניים for the places that he is cited. Ateres Devorah, chap. 89, cites three such decisions.

    The Rabbenu Yerucham is in Meisharim, Nesiv 23 chelek 8]

  4. Leon Zacharowicz says:

    If prenuptual agreements became the norm, the incidence of such cases would plummet, I suspect.

  5. Mr. Cohen says:

    I suggest that the word for Halachic divorce be spelled GETT
    in English, with two Ts, to distinguish it from the word GET.

  6. Baruch Gitlin says:

    If the opportunity ever arises, I think a post on the topic of pre-nuptual agreements of this type would be most interesting and informative. An ounce of prevention….

  7. Izzy says:

    Points to consider:
    Why is withholding a get considered unjustifiable leverage in a divorce dispute, but applying pressure through an employer considered justified?
    Why is using access to a child considered justified? “ORA has tried to get Friedman’s relatives to agree to stop helping him ferry his 4-year-old daughter between her parents’ homes for her semi-monthly visitation with Friedman.”

    [YA Because once both parties have had their days in court/beis din, rulings have to be upheld. Once a marriage is terminated, a husband has no right in halacha to withhold a get. (When he truly wants to continue the marriage, and his wife is the one who walks out, he is not obligated to immediately grant a get, but can leverage it to try to repair the relationship. Once it is clear that both parties have given up on the marriage relationship – regardless of who requested the get, or who was at fault! – withholding the get is seen in halacha going back to Rabbenu Yerucham as extortion. The latter held that beis din could even use physical force to coerce a get at that point. Batei Din in Israel routinely accept this Rabbenu Yerucham. Certainly lesser forms of persuasion, as guided by responsible morei hora’ah, are permitted.]

  8. Charlie Hall says:

    Tal,

    You wrote:

    “why can’t there be an agreement (either at the beginning of a marriage or at the beginning of a din Torah) that the parties will abide by any order of the Beis Din, including an order to give a get, and if they fail to do so, are subject to contempt.”

    That is basically the idea behind the Rabbinical Council of America Prenuptual Agreement. My wife and I signed before we were married. EVERY Jewish couple in America should.

    (And kudos to Rabbi Mordechai Willig for his critical role in creating the RCA Prenup.)

    [YA – I use the RCA prenup when I am mesader kedushin. But I don’t believe that the naming of a beis din is the most important feature of this prenup. I am not sure if it was ever tested in the courts. The most important part of it is setting a cash amount for mezonos (a reasonable amount, but one that adds up quickly) that a husband owes his wife (waived while they occupy the same domicile). This amount is NOT a penalty, but simply attaches a dollar amount to a requirement of the standard kesubah. It incentivizes (yeah, I hate the word also) the husband to quickly end the obligation by granting the get. ]

  9. chana says:

    Yeah, I agree with Reb Yid. Obviously if it isn’t halachically permissible, it isn’t halachically permissible-but is it “beneath contempt” to try to find some way to override the get with-holding via halachic loophole? I think not. Honestly, I don’t understand why men have a heter meah rabbanim, yet women have no equivalent.

    [YA – It isn’t halachically permissible. Reb Yid comes from a place outside of Orthodoxy. It is beneath contempt for anyone Orthodox to pander to heterodox thinking by implying that halacha can be changed or illicitly manipulated outside of accepted halachic canons.

    Men have access to a heter meah rabbonon because their issur in taking a second wife is not d’oraryso. That is not the case for a woman. Simple as that. What you are having trouble understanding is why HKBH made the get apparently one-sided. That is a discussion you ought to have with someone you respect who is steeped in Torah thought.]

  10. Roland says:

    I went to the petition site and did not find any link to the shtar siruv. Please post it.

    [YA – It is there. But to make it easier, just click here.]

  11. Joe Hill says:

    Unfortunately Rep. Camp is legally barred from firing Friedman or taking any adverse action against him, for that matter. The reason being is that this is a religious issue. And an employer is prohibited by law from pressuring or penalizing an employee due to a religious matter. An employer is also barred from using coercion to entice an employee in engaging in a religious practice.

  12. Tal Benschar says:

    This may be a bit off topic, but why can’t there be an agreement (either at the beginning of a marriage or at the beginning of a din Torah) that the parties will abide by any order of the Beis Din, including an order to give a get, and if they fail to do so, are subject to contempt. If someone then refuses to comply with such an order, then secular courts could jail him or her for contempt until they comply.

    Secular courts view batei din as arbitration. But arbitration is highly favored in the law in America today, and AFAIK includes not only an award of money damages but also injunctive relief (and order to do something or not do something for the non-lawyers.)

    Is there any objection in either halakkha or secular law for such an arrangment? On the surface, at least, it seems like it fits right into aseh mah she yisroel omirim lach.

  13. shaya says:

    This is tragic. But it’s also tragic that even after hundreds of years of being unable to enforce the rulings of batei din, the problem has not been solved through halachic ingenuity. After all, “G-d does not rule over his creatures with tyranny.” Isn’t it also tragic that the prenuptial agreement preventing get-refusal, approved by the Beit Dein of America, is not in universal use?

    Who were the witnesses to their marriage? Has anyone put a magnifying glass up to them to see if their observance is lacking in some way? If so, the marriage can be declared to have never existed. This, I understand, was the method employed by Rav Feinstein.

  14. micha says:

    There are two reasons to sign the petition:

    1- It might push Rep Camp to fire him, putting pressure on Mr Friedman toward giving a get. I actually am somewhat pessimistic about that, since most elected officials know how little effort goes into signing an on-line petition, and discount them accordingly.

    2- It makes a statement about mesarvei get on a communal level. People following the story need to know that the community doesn’t stand behind a guy who abuses a woman this way. And adding to his sense of alienation may provide that necessary push to actually give the get. But either way, it must be clear that we care more about someone actually being good than whether they can claim membership in our community.

  15. Reb Yid says:

    Quite interesting that you select the harsh phrase “beneath contempt” to describe a potential way to avoid such horrendous scenarios in the future, while completely avoiding the use of similar, harsh, direct language against Friedman.

  16. Not Important says:

    Have you seen the shtar siruv? Have you heard or even inquired as to his side of the story? Or is this just another case of a woman using whatever means at her disposal to get whatever she wants and trampling anyone in the way?

    [YA – Go to the petition site. You will find links to the shtar seruv, with the signatures]

  17. Shanks says:

    Signed.

    Some of your readers might think that since signing petitions sometimes doesn’t get things done, it isn’t worth it to sign. But this isn’t a case dealing with some general broad issue where there are other and better avenues to get things done. A petition is one of the best tools we have here, and moreover, we send a message of caring for an individual’s personal pain by signing it. So I think sending a message to Dave Camp (R-MI) for his dismissive attitude toward an agunah (his office referred to concern about her as “gossip!”) is a right proper thing to do.

    Tzedek tzedek tirdof.