Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The nutters have found me (and it only makes me madder)

I knew I was asking for trouble when I posted this. I received four carefully-worded comments on this post that are clearly from the wackjob get-withholding contingency. They were careful to pay attention to my post enough not to capitalize every letter, and their grammar and diction are near-perfect. But their comments are almost verbatim off their nutter websites, and I recognize the propaganda in their comments. I'm going to exercise the same rights that they do when I attempt to comment on their crazy proprietor of this blog, I choose not to publish their comments. I don't want to be an instrument of spreading around their insanity.

You see, I know agunahs. I know their ex-husbands. I've spoken to them at length. And here's the thing...I'm about as straight an arrow as you can possibly get when it comes to moral issues and this makes me a very sensitive b.s. meter for when people spin immorality into some version of Torah. And when I talk to these guys, my needle runs into the red. These men are sick, selfish and evil and they cloak themselves very cleverly in Torah. Most of the time, they hide their immorality very well.

Orthodox Judaism is very gender-role oriented. I actually believe that most of the time, this is a good thing. But how I feel about it is sort of is what it is, and though I do struggle with certain aspects of halacha, I embrace them, because overall, I think Torah is an ideal system. Orthodox Jewish marriage is one of these bizarre legal constructs that is centuries old. It basically involves the husband "acquiring the wife." I don't know a better English word than "acquire" although it is not exactly accurate. It's not the same thing as acquiring a goat or a piece of furniture, as the wife needs to consent and understand what is transpiring (a goat or table does not) and by acquiring the wife, the husband has specific legal obligations toward her. While halachic marriage is one-sided transactionally (the man is actively acquiring, the woman is passively acquired), it is not misogynistic. But since it is the man that is active in the marriage, it is the man that is active in the undoing of the marriage. The man holds the power of the giving of the divorce, the get.

On the positive side, I remember when I stood under my chuppah (both times) thinking that it was extremely cool that my husband was marrying me using the exact same words and the exact same action as my father did when he married my mother, my grandfathers did when they married my grandmothers, my great-grandfathers did when they married my great-grandmothers, etc. I felt like I was part of a giant spiral. On the other hand, when a woman stands under a chuppah with a man, she is putting her life in his hands. She is trusting him that if something goes wrong, he will do the right thing and release her. That is an enormous trust. Think about that. And anytime a husband withholds a get from his wife, for any reason, he betrays that trust and abuses that power.

I'm not saying that all divorces are the man's fault. I'm not saying that women don't play dirty in divorce and custody settlements. Hire a lawyer, rake her over the coals, do whatever you think is right, and defend yourself. But the get needs to be completely off the table. It is difficult for me to believe that God meant for husbands to torment and enslave their wives when He gave the power of the get to men. It was not meant to be used this way, and when men do this, they belittle themselves, halacha and the Torah. When a husband uses a get to extort money from his wife, he becomes a naval b'rshut haTorah, or worse, just a plain thief and extortionist. These men are cruel and often mentally unstable. I've met enough of them.

I've already lived long enough to accept that there are evil people in the world. That part doesn't keep me up at night. What bothers me more is the apathy of otherwise good, giving people when it comes to dealing with these men. People are more willing to advocate against global warming than against get-withholders....what the hell kind of value system does that show? If I owned a store or a restaurant in a Jewish community, I would have a sign up: "If you are withholding a get from your wife, your business is not welcome here." I get furious when I hear about synagogues that allow these men to come in the door. I want to tear my hair out when I hear about a Beis Din that instructs a woman to "just pay her husband off and get it over with." Every time a Beis Din condones this kind of extortion, they open the door for a hundred other men to do the same. The Batei-Din should decree that going forward, all gets that were bought-off with money are invalid. That would stop these extortionists cold. I want to scream when I hear about shadchans setting these losers up with unsuspecting women. And the women who date them, knowing their situation...well, I have no words.

But the evil continues and it remains a large boil on the backside of the Jewish community. It makes me cringe. When I see my Jewish sisters unable to date, remarry, have children, go on with their lives, all because they made the mistake of marrying selfish monsters, my heart breaks.

So think twice before you date one of these nutters. Think twice again before you let him into your home, shul, store, restaurant, or do business with him. Think about what you would do if your daughter or sister became an agunah and her life had to come to a screeching halt. Think hard, because all Bnos Yisroel are your daughters and your sisters, so stand up for them, protect them, and give voice to this injustice.

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Frayda said...

well said!

Marni said...

I have always been intrigued by Jewish women who are prevented from obtaining a get for years, yet still adhere to Judaism. I am by no means religious, although Judaism is very dear to me. Part of the reason I am not that observant is due to a lot of the inequality (and arguably lack of encouragement of individuality) I see in Judaism. Yes, some of the traditional gender-oriented functions are beautiful, but that's not what I wanted to post about. I think if a man withheld a get from me, I would give up Judaism altogether and get a civil divorce. I cannot imagine being literally chained to someone, unable to proceed with life, possibly even during prime childbearing years, and giving it all up by choice for the sake of Judaism. Because if Judaism is what was preventing me from living my life, I think I would rather give it up entirely. And although you can blame the man for the get refusal and not the religion, ultimately it is the men, rabbis and women who are using the religion to justify the situation. I think forcing someone to stay married to you and preventing them from moving on and being happy is sick, thus I have a hard time understanding how some women are still able to remain in a state of purgatory for sometimes decades....all for the sake of halacha.

WebGirl said...

Marni, consider this: if you would try to remarry without a get, no Orthodox or Conservative rabbi would officiate at your wedding and you would be hard-pressed to find an Orthodox or Conservative man who would marry you. Your children would not be able to marry a Jew in Israel (any denomination), and would never be able to marry an Orthodox or Conservative Jew in the US. They and their descendants would be never be able to marry another observant Jew. So you're saying, who cares, if I give up on Judaism, why should this bother me? Because by doing this, you're condemning your kids as well. Every year, at Neve Yerushalayim, which is a Yeshiva for "ba'alot teshuva" or women who were not raised observant and are exploring their heritage, there are girls who find out that they are mamzerot, because their mother never bothered getting a get from her first husband before conceiving them with her second. These kids' religious lives, which they have chosen, are completely ruined. They can only marry fellow mamzerim. Why would you want to do this to your kids? Please go to and read their excellent FAQ, which explains why having a get is so important, even if you don't even believe in God.

Marni said...

My point is that I personally would probably be so disgusted by Judaism in general from having to go through this ordeal, that I would just forgo the religion entirely. Thus, I am amazed by women who spend 10, 20, 30 years in solitude trying to obtain a get, because for them, Judaism is more important than moving forward with their lives, finding love and having a family. Is it worth it to adhere to a religion for the rest of your life when it is essentially keeping you trapped? What does it matter if your kids are considered mamzerim when the alternative is not to have any at all? If I want children, then divorce or no, I am having them, and if Judaism condemns them for my husband's failure to be humane, then why would I want to be a part of it?

I personally know "mamzerim" whose parents told them the truth only after they were married to prevent their spouse from leaving prior to the wedding. Of course this makes me feel horrible for the child as well as their spouse who unknowingly married someone our faith considers a bastard. However, this also distances me from Judaism more. Why should someone 10 generations in pay for the 'mistakes' of their great great great etc., grandparents? And if I am not mistaken, why is the child considered a mamzer only if the mother was married? A think there is a lot more leeway for men, which I don't understand...

I think being raised in a liberal Reformed (bagel and lox Jews) American household has given me a sense of equality (I hate the word feminism and its connotations) where I just would not be able to allow a man or a religion that seems to undeniably benefit men to a much greater extent than women to control my life. Judaism is very important to me, and I agree that Judaism probably did not intend for us to perverse the Torah in order to hold women hostage. However, when religious authorities use religion to permit this heinous act to continue, then that is not a religion of which I want to be a part. I could say that some Rabbi who won't force my husband to give me a get and encourages my husband's extortion isn't true Judaism, but if he is the Rabbi of my community, what other choice do I have? Judaism is too community focused to practice it individually. I am essentially stuck in my marriage because of the moral turpitude of this particular Rabbi.

I will check out the website though.