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The Difficulty of Divorce in Orthodox Judaism

While divorce is a difficult process, it is easy to take the ability to get a divorce for granted. If your marriage falls apart for any reason, you or your spouse can file a Petition for Divorce, which will begin the proceedings and result in your marriage being dissolved. Certainly, depending on the issues in your case and the level of cooperation of the parties, the divorce process could be relatively quick or it could take a very long time. But, if you want a divorce, you will eventually get it.

This is not always true for women of the Orthodox Jewish faith. Judge ‘gets’ to preside over strikingly similar divorce case, by Julia Marsh and Josh Saul, nypost.com, January 22, 2015. In Orthodox Judaism, a “get” is a religious decree that allows a woman to remarry in the Jewish faith. Without the “get,” an Orthodox Jewish woman cannot remarry, even if she has obtained a divorce. In the case described in the article above, an Orthodox Jewish woman is divorcing her rabbi husband due to allegations of severe abuse. However her husband, a rabbi, is refusing to give her the “get” she needs to truly move on with her life. The Judge in the case, who interestingly went through this same issue with her husband in the late 1980s, threatened the husband with lifetime alimony if he does not give in on this issue. The Judge is essentially saying that if he refuses to give the “get” and, thereby, precludes his wife from remarrying and “starting a new economic partnership,” he should have to financially support her himself. The husband appears unmoved by this threat saying, “In religious law, a man must give a get freely, so if you place something over him to force him, the get is meaningless.” Thus, it seems that he would oppose any potential remarriage, regardless of the Judge’s final decision.

This is obviously a difficult situation for the wife and her children. Clearly she should not be forced to stay in an abusive relationship and it appears the Judge agrees with her. It will be interesting to see, if the alimony threat becomes an actual final judgment, whether the husband will abide by the court order, or whether the parties will be back in court. Like any contempt case, if the husband fails to abide by the alimony order (assuming it is upheld by the appellate courts should he appeal), he is subject to sanctions, which could include jail time. In that situation, the court will likely push aside his religious beliefs and be  more concerned with the fact that he is willingly disobeying a court order.

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