Times of Israel by Nitzan Caspi Shiloni, Esq. is an attorney at the Center for Women's Justice, a legal advocacy organization
[...] In case you missed it: on Tuesday, February 14, the rabbinic court announced its findings with great fanfare: More women withhold religious divorces than men! To understand this outrageous piece of PR, let’s take a look at some key facts that might come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with the world of rabbinic courts.
First, rabbinic court statistics are utterly meaningless when examined in context. They fail to provide an accurate representation of the actual numbers of women refused a get. Naama, the woman mentioned above, who has been waiting five and a half years for her get, is not counted. 60- and 70-year-old women, who, after waiting 20 or 30 years for a get that never materializes and have had their rabbinic court files closed due to lack of activity, are not counted. Women who filed for divorce, but could not cite halakhically adequate grounds for divorce (to illustrate, “occasional” domestic violence against women is not considered sufficient grounds for divorce according to many rabbinic courts in Israel), and whose divorce requests were subsequently rejected by the rabbinic court, are not counted. Women who sue their recalcitrant husbands for damages in civil court are labeled recalcitrant wives by the rabbinic court as “punishment” for turning to the civil system, doubly skewing the statistics by not factoring into the number of agunot, while also adding to the number of recalcitrant wives. And women who do not capitulate to financial extortion for their get are not counted either, since the rabbinic court will not obligate a man to give the get until the woman satisfies all of the husband’s demands.
In an especially blood-boiling incident I encountered a few months ago in the course of my work at the Center for Women’s Justice, the Haifa Rabbinic Court released the recalcitrant husband of one of my clients from prison because she would not pay hundreds of thousands of shekels for her get. The rabbinic court judges had the gall to admonish the woman (whose husband had been refusing her a get for six years), saying that it was her fault that she had no get — because she refused to meet the husband’s demand. Absurdly, in the rabbinic court’s statistics, the man is not counted as a get-refuser. [...]
But let’s put aside all these pesky facts for now, and take a fresh look at the story behind the story. If we pause and think about the rabbinic court’s data and their “boys versus girls” argument that they attempt to craft, one thing is glaringly obvious: the utter failure of the rabbinic court itself.
The rabbinic court can try and wage a defensive PR campaign against the barrage of criticism hurled its way every day by the media and others who are fed up with its shenanigans. But the fact remains that get-refusal — whether perpetrated by men or women (the numbers of whom the rabbinic court is all too happy to share) — is enabled by the rabbinic court system itself. Their own failing system is responsible for the proliferation of get-refusal and their ineptitude is what chains more and more Israeli men and women in marriages against their will. And the icing on the cake? By issuing this misleading report, the rabbinic court tries to place the responsibility for this tragic state of affairs on the very women who suffer at its hands. But there is no doubt that the responsibility for this predicament lies with the rabbinic courts themselves.