Thursday, May 5, 2016


Last December, Mendel Epstein, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi in Brooklyn, was convicted of conspiring to kidnap and torture men who had refused to give their wives a Jewish divorce, known as a “get.” The case – which was investigated by the FBI and resulted in a 10-year prison sentence for Epstein – generated sensational tabloid and national media coverage. (The Daily News nicknamed Epstein “The Prodfather,” for his alleged use of a cattle prod to coerce husbands to provide a divorce.)

But lost amid the macabre details of the Epstein case was a much more widespread problem that persists in the tight-knit Orthodox communities in Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Borough Park and Flatbush: Many Orthodox Jewish women seeking to escape abusive or defunct marriages face a system that is stacked against them, sometimes trapping them as “chained women” for years on end. And as such cases have become increasingly prevalent, advocates, social services agencies and lawyers have teamed up in an effort to provide women with the resources and representation that they need.
At the core of the Jewish divorce system is the get, a divorce document that can only be provided by a husband to his wife in a Jewish court, a forum which arbitrates matrimony matters under religious law. In the case that a husband continually refuses to grant the get, despite his marriage being defunct, his wife is said to be “agunah,” or chained to him, unable to pursue remarriage or bear legitimate children within the Orthodox Jewish community.

While many Jewish scholars say that a get should never be refused once a marriage is functionally over, advocates say that, in many cases, husbands will use the get as a way to gain the upper hand in a divorce.

“Husbands will refuse the get and use it as a form of blackmail to extort concessions,” said Orly Kusher, staff attorney at Sanctuary for Families’ Orthodox Jewish Matrimonial Project, which recently launched due to an influx of get refusal cases. “They’ll say, ‘I won’t give you the Jewish divorce unless you give me custody of the kids, or a large sum of money – give me $30,000 and then I’ll give you the get.’ Our view here at Sanctuary – and why it ties in with our work with domestic violence victims – is that we see the refusal to give a get, in and of itself, as a form of abuse.”

According to social service workers, fear over the refusal of the get is just one of a host of conditions that can lead Orthodox women to stay in abusive relationships.

“The idea of ‘shalom bayit,’ or peace in the home, is a central tenet of Jewish marriage,” said Shoshannah Frydman, director of family violence services at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. “Women are socialized to be mothers and homemakers, so speaking up about an abusive relationship can be seen within the community as a personal failing to uphold that peace.”

Due to the stigma attached to divorce and domestic abuse issues, Frydman says that many women fear that escaping an abusive relationship will hurt their children’s chances of finding a suitable partner during the “shidduch,” or matchmaking process that arranges marriages within the community.

“Some women will only contact us about abuse when their last child gets married off,” Frydman said. “One of our clients has two daughters who are in their 20s and are unmarried. They are begging their mother to stay in her marriage because they are afraid it will hurt their chances. But they understand why she wants to leave.”

Frydman also says that Orthodox women feel incredible societal and religious pressure to keep their families intact.

“Who will say kiddush (a Jewish prayer) over the wine? That’s seen as a male role,” Frydman said. “What is it like to have a Passover seder without a family? And then there are the very harsh financial realities: kosher food costs more; entering the workforce and supporting themselves and their children apart from their husbands is often extremely challenging, especially because these are often large families.”

Given these forces, Kusher says that it is important for women to have legal support early on in the matrimony process, which gives them the strongest chance of navigating the system successfully. In response to this need, the Orthodox Jewish Matrimony Project, which Kusher heads, provides representation for Orthodox women in divorce, custody, visitation and child support hearings in both civil and Jewish courts, as well as connects clients to in-house counseling, shelter and job training services.

“Ideally, we want to have the client to come to us before she’s already been refused a get,” Kusher said. “Let’s say she’s just thinking of getting a divorce. She’s in an abusive situation. Hopefully we can contact that client early, because if we are representing her from the beginning, we can give her the best advice and counsel for her case, as opposed to if she already tried to go to a certain Jewish court and maybe things already happened in that court and she’s bound to a certain forum, we would still advocate for her, but we can’t necessarily undo things that have already been done.”

Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, who presides over matrimony proceedings at the Beth Din of America, a forum favored by advocates due to its more sympathetic treatment of women than other, more conservative Jewish courts, says that it’s important for women to be guided through the process by experts.[...]


  1. Money quote: Our view here at Sanctuary – and why it ties in with our work with domestic violence victims – is that we see the refusal to give a get, in and of itself, as a form of abuse.”

  2. “Husbands will refuse the get and use it as a form of blackmail to extort concessions,” said Orly Kusher, staff attorney at Sanctuary for Families’ Orthodox Jewish Matrimonial Project, which recently launched due to an influx of get refusal cases. “They’ll say, ‘I won’t give you the Jewish divorce unless you give me custody of the kids, or a large sum of money – give me $30,000 and then I’ll give you the get.’
    This statement i basically absurd. What husbands are really saying is you want a Get then play the whole game the JEWISH way.
    You are entitled to a Get IF Halacha determines that I am obligated to give you one - not because you want one and certainly not because you want out.
    You are entitled to the Kesuva (whatever the Poskim say it is worth today) and nothing else.
    Custody issues are determined by Halacha and Bais Din not a court. You are not allowed to go to court
    You want more than Halacha gives you - then negotiate and give me more than Halacha gives me
    additional visitation
    stay close by so I can see the children....etc.

  3. Garnel IronheartMay 5, 2016 at 8:37 PM

    It's like I told one of my chavrusa's: most of Nezikin would be a dead letter if people behaved honourably, looked after their stuff and kept an eye out for the other guy's well being.
    It seems to be the same with Gittin - overcome pettiness, meet face to face,arbitrate fairly and you avoid all this.

  4. R. Shlomo Weissmann's comments to the reporter in that article make clear than the Beit Din of America places women's liberation and rights on a pedestal above halacha.


  6. "Do you only serve women seeking a get who are also victims of abuse?

    Orly: Get refusal is a form of abuse. My role is to serve victims of domestic violence, which involves an abuser exerting power and control over the victim. Because of the deep power imbalance inherent in the granting of the get, and because of the damaging ramifications of refusal, woman refused a get are victims of abuse."

  7. True. I fully agree.
    Most of these so-called "agunos", are actually "abusive women" that violated the jewish law and filed false allegations and order-of-protections against their husbands; many of them put their husband into jail, took away his children, his house, and his money in court.
    After all that, they shed "innocent" tears and call themselves "agunos" to gain empathy.
    Let's not get confused, an "aguna" is a woman stuck in a situation without her fault. A wicked woman that violates the torah and is in contempt of halacha is a "moredes", not an "aguna". Let us save our mercy to those who deserve it. like chazal say "כל המרחם על אכזרים סופו מתאכזר על רחמנים"

  8. The only liberation needed is the liberation of religious men from the cruel tyranny of an out of control, unconstitutional feminist police state.

    Religious Jewish men must start to aggressively defend their constitutional right to free exercise of religion, which is under attack by the police state feminists. The establishment Jewish organizations, including the Agudah and OU, have been missing in action in regard to defending the constitutional rights of Jewish husbands.

    Constitutional lawyers are needed to step up to the plate and create massive legal challenges against any attempts to unconstitutionally entangle civil courts in Jewish Get matters. If possible, Federal civil rights lawsuits should be filed against any feminist organizations or activists that attempt to suppress the right of free exercise of religion of Jewish husbands.

  9. Mishna in Kidushin states, Haisha niknit bishlosha drachim, it is the man being mekadesh and not visa versa. It therefore follows the same way that a Get is given by the husband, not the other way around. Each party has responsibilities and obligations, and by violating it, such as being a MOREDET, a TRAITOR, yado al hatachtona. No such thing as being entitled for a Get just for the asking. You agreed and committed yourself to marry the man, had children with him, built a house, saved up financial security, you just cannot run off with it after the facts for no good reason. If you claim abuse, not before you prove it in BD, and only AFTER BD verified and approved that she has truly been abused and paskens a chiyuv Get al pi Torah and al pi Halacha, is she entitled for a Get. You cannot get around it. The refusing in and of itself before BD processing an approval, is not an Agunah and is entitled to nothing. You must show good and valid cause. She must tend to the children and business a usual. She can seek out the help of Counseling, Psychiatrists, Shalom Bayit orgs, if and when as necessary, period! Torah, Halacha, Shulchan Aruch is NOT leverage. These are the rules of engagement from Hashem Kedas Moshe veYisrael in ways and means of marriage, and you cannot overrule. The true numbers of abuse is few and far in between, of which does not include the Pied Piper blowing Shofar of ORA Sharya. According to ORA, all you need is to cry wolf, you automatically become a full fledged Agunah with all the bells and whistles, standing by your side and the world is yours. Not so fast, my friend! Zos haTorah lo tehey mechulefes. And if you don't believe me, look at mendele Prod how he ended up in the can. VehoElokim yevakesh et haNirdaf. So now he knows, you don't tamper with Halacha.

    Practice what you preach!
    "Leverage and blackmail", is indeed what mendele Prod has been doing and not the other way around. He basically told the Torah kivyachol, the SA and Halacha, in your face, you can go fly a kite. For a few bucks and putting on a different hat with a show of force, Wallah, I can perform and deliver to your hearts content in spite of what Gedoilei haDor declared as worthless. He was able to show you that he can serve a seruv, psak chiyuv Get, beatings, force a Get in absentia and the Husband need not even exist, all in a blink of an eye, if the price i$ right. Yes, true, the Torah says you cannot, but let me show you that, Oh' yes I can, yes I can! And can, he did! He also was able the show for it and delivered the goods. And all you fake Agunoh's played along, uhmmm.... "The Emepror indeed has clothes"! Of course, it is as good as kids playing Doctor and a Bogus Hocus Pocus producing mamzerim.

    Now that is what you call using unfair leverage and blackmail, extorting concessions, when robbing husbands blind while according to Das Moshe veYisrael you are entitled to zilch, nada, and nothing. You must follow the rules of the Torah, Torah is not leverage. When partners split there is the concept of "Gid oy Ogud", you want something above and beyond you are entitled, buy him out for fare market value. ORA is an outlaw organization, endorsed by outlaws that defy the Torah!

  10. Yehoishophot OliverMay 9, 2016 at 9:34 AM

    "we see the refusal to give a get, in and of itself, as a form of abuse"
    This is a pernicious secular idea that is corrupting people's minds and judgment. See here:


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