About 30 years ago, attempts were made to change what Orthodox women learned in Kallah classes as the issue of spousal abuse received more public attention and attitudes changed. As divorce rates rose both in society and in the Jewish community, a number of women found that they could not easily free themselves of such men and the issues of domestic violence and child abuse, as well as the issue of agunot and Get Extortion became communal concerns.
And yet, for more than 40 years women in trouble, and agunot, thousands of them, have been told by rabbis to have patience, while their exes have often moved on and remarried and they remained in limbo. Even shaming the recalcitrant or threatening husband often did not work, nor did putting them in cherem. And so, women began politely asking the rabbis to help them.
40 years later, the rabbis still have not found a tried and true halakhic method to free women. At a recent conference on agunah issues, pre-nups were still touted as the most practical solution, yet the rabbis there reported that were five halakhically acceptable methods of releasing women, but no agreement was reached on how to make any of them work.
What they all did agree on was the need to stop the pernicious use of Get Extortion that threatens approximately 50 percent of Orthodox women. Get Extortion is where the husband, often with the assistance of a Beis Din, receives the house, children, savings and other financial assets – all while threatening to withhold the Get should his demands not be met. The threat of Get Extortion has been used on 50 percent of Orthodox women—one out of two.
Women, who are tired of hearing they have to be patient, will want to see for themselves if there is something in the halakha that can be used to free them from the extortionists who torture them daily, to free them from those who keep them chained—because no one else seems to care enough to do more than bemoan the hopelessness of the situation.
If it was your mother, sister or aunt in such a mess, wouldn’t you want these things resolved? Can we start with stopping Get Extortion, since that, in and of itself, is a widespread cause of misery and pikuach nefesh, and is unacceptable across the board.