On the Orthodox Get-Coercion Controversy: By Rabbi Chana Thompson Shor

I’ve been following comments on the “vigilantes for hire”, who for a price would beat up a recalcitrant husband…  One outrageous thing leads to another, and I’m sorry to say I’m not particularly surprised.   I am astonished, though, when I back up and look at the law regarding the man’s obligation to give a Get as it is in the Torah —  which in context is clearly there davka [i.e., precisely] so that man CANNOT mess with the woman’s marriageability —  at the disconnect.  In the Torah it’s elegant [when a woman is divorced, she is “permitted to any man” i.e. marriageable].   As sometimes “enforced” in the Orthodox community?  Ugh. [i.e., a woman civilly divorced is not marriageable unless the husband gives a religious divorce — a “get” — and if he refuses, it’s her tough luck, for the rest of her life].
I know I’m preaching to the choir, here, but (to grossly oversimplify things) our mission in the world is to establish (and uphold) the rule of law and pursue justice.   As examples, that means that our laws, above all, have to be just. But it also means that we specifically DO NOT pursue “justice” vigilante-style, outside the law, because that is mob rule, which the rule of law is there to replace.  Conscience is crucial, and should be involved in determining whether a law is being enforced equitably.   Without conscience, it’s impossible to pursue justice within the law.  But adrenalin, brute force, the desire for revenge,  or financial gain, are not the tools of equity.

So the really ironic thing is that the laws of “gittin” [= religious divorces] as being enforced in Orthodoxy are not just, and everyone can see that. Nobody thinks that it is fair that there are agunot [= women who are forever unmarriageable because their husbands refuse to give them a religious divorce after the civil divorce procedure has been completed].
The odd thing is, that the injustice of the law doesn’t seem to have inherent relevance.   Why?  The fixed form, in which the penalty for the man’s infraction falls on the woman, is treated as sancrosanct and too holy to change (as though Chazal [i.e., the rabbis of the Talmud] thought there was something sacred about punishing women for men’s infractions). So some communities turn to vigilantism (and justify it by saying the men “deserve” it, which is beside the point) to enforce it  —  because they think the legal system forbids making it legally enforcible on the party who is clearly responsible.  That’s not halakha, that’s:
a) dismissal of legal conscience, part of the imperative to pursue justice,  in favor of extralegal rage or opportunism (absolutely forbidden), all due to
b) veneration of a broken law (a form of instrumental idolatry).
In my view, Asur , asur [= forbidden],  and a hillul hashem  (i.e., an insult to God’s good reputation).   And, in addition, taking money from desperate women to beat up their ex-es — mercenary vigilantism?   To circumvent a law so sacred you can’t change it?  The responsibility for all that accrues from unjust laws — the injustice to those directly wronged, and their families and communities who bear the burden , the moral stumbling block before the opportunists, the opportunity, within the law,  to ill-treat someone for the sake of revenge or money, the violence, the mob rule — all of that rests squarely in the laps of those who do not take responsibility for a legal system we were charged to keep holy.
Injustice is not tradition, or the “fault” of tradition, or one of the inevitable side-effects of being traditional, or a “sacrifice” we make in order to remain traditional. Rather, law and justice are the tradition.  We actually do — besides “clauses” and the like — have halakhic ways to make a recalcitrant husband accountable to an equitable application of the law.  (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lieberman_clause and http://www.agunahinternational.com/halakhic.htm#1.] And no agunot.   It’s something to be proud of.
IMHO/LAD [= in my humble opinion]
Shabbat Shalom,
Chana Thompson Shor, JTSA 95
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