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Two more sign gets amid community outrage

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BRIAN JOSSELOWITZ

Rosh Beth Din Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag hoped that as a result of the campaign more get refusers would reconsider their intransigence.

Rabbi Kurtstag said the Beth Din uses cherem (most severe form of community excommunication) as a last resort. “We have to be very careful as it can affect the whole family, including the children, which is why it took so long to put Sherman in cherem. There was also a lot of consultation with the agunah (woman who is ‘chained’ to her marriage) who finally gave us the go-ahead.

“Women who are contemplating divorce, must not think that we have all the answers to their problems. We are not a civil court. One woman was screaming at me because her former husband would not pay maintenance, which is really a matter for the civil courts. 

“Not receiving a get is a form of abuse and women can get help from the Chevrah Kadisha,” Rabbi Kurtstag said.

He insists that it was vitally important that women insist a get is made a part of the divorce settlement. “Without the get, according to the halacha, the woman is seen as an adulteress and cannot have a relationship with another man.”

Rabbi Kurtstag said women should be more vociferous in their protests; they should get the community to play a more active role and include the men. One way would be to demonstrate outside the get refusenik’s place of business or work.

“In Israel the men are often jailed for withholding a get and some have been sitting for several years. This was not possible in South Africa but here the Beth Din can impose cherem,” he said.

Israeli lawyer, Naama Safrig, who works at the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) in Jerusalem, said get refusal was a big problem in Israel.

“CWJ is trying to use the civil law to prosecute for damages, but it doesn’t always work. The Rabbinical Courts sometimes use cherem, but they have other ways, including imprisonment,” she said.

The Rabbinical Courts’ website showed six pictures of recalcitrant husbands who have refused to grant their former wives a get.

In England, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is also fighting for women’s rights. Esther Tager, a member of the Jofa UK Advisory Board and of the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ “Review on Get and Agunah”, said: “For those husbands, wives and children affected, get refusal is a huge problem, but the data which Batei Din have, may not reveal the true extent of the problem as it is unclear at what point the get process turns into ‘get refusal’ – is it a length of time or an outright refusal to co-operate?

There is more than one Beth Din in England and there is a perception they could be doing more to name and shame get refusers.

“Halachic solutions exist, but rabbinic will to implement is needed. All parties need to appreciate that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and for it to be effective, they have to fit in with national laws and the cases can take many years as the husband or the wife can frequently be unwilling to negotiate.”

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