THERE are two key components inherent to the process of Jewish divorce (gett): the husband must grant the gett, and the wife must accept.
Often, we hear of the plight of the agunot – women who are “chained” to their marriage because their husbands refuse to grant a gett – but last week, a lesser reported issue came to the fore, highlighting what can happen when the situation is reversed, and the woman is the non-compliant party.
The case of Idelsohn v. Idelsohn saw an Orthodox Jewish husband attempting to force his wife into accepting a gett, asking the Family Court of Australia to withhold the wife’s property settlement of approximately $760,000 until she agreed.
The court ruled that to interfere in this matter would be contrary to Section 116 of the Constitution which states that the Commonwealth “shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or from imposing any religious observance”, deferring the jurisdiction to the Beth Din.
“The effect of this decision is that family courts can’t assist separating parties to obtain a gett so parties can’t use the obtaining of a gett as leverage and a bargaining chip in Family Court proceedings,” explained Melanie Rubin, family law practitioner and partner at Pearson Emerson Meyer.
While the couple’s real names were concealed, The AJN can confirm that the Sydney Beth Din is currently dealing with the case, and is in ongoing negotiations with the woman to accept the gett.
Though the issue of a woman choosing not to accept a gett does not receive the same publicity as the issue of agunot, a senior dayan of the Sydney Beth Din, Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, told The AJN it is “not uncommon”, estimating periods where there has been an equal ratio of men refusing to grant a gett as women refusing to accept.
Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, senior dayan of the Melbourne Beth Din concurred, but added when a woman is refused a gett, she is placed in a “more dire predicament”.
“She cannot remarry and any children she may have in a future relationship without receiving her gett first are considered illegitimate in Jewish law. This has devastating repercussions for such children in particular.”
Further, men have access to a halachic loophole. ‘Heter meah rabbanim’ allows a man to obtain a divorce once receiving the support of 100 rabbis. The AJN understands this remedy has been employed at least twice in the past decade.
Susie Ivany, chair of Unchain my Heart, a coalition of Jewish women’s organisations in campaigning for agunot, agreed withholding a gett is “far worse for women than men”.
However, she added, “No man or woman should withhold the issuing of a gett.”