Orthodox rabbis say they are committed to helping facilitate religious divorce for “even the most challenging situations” a week after rejecting a new law aimed at protecting “chained women”.
The Federation of Synagogues Beth Din (rabbinic court) said last week that it could not approve a Get (religious divorce) for agunot seeking legal redress through the courts, as this would amount to a divorce given “under duress”.
A recent reform to the Serious Crimes Act passed through the Domestic Abuse Bill now means that a man who refuses a Get will be deemed as exerting “controlling and coercive behaviour”, which is listed as a criminal offence and punishable by financial penalty or imprisonment.
However in a statement released on Wednesday, the Federation had revised its initial reaction to the issue, saying it is “exploring ways in which this law can be applied and developed” to reconcile religious and secular divorce rules.
It added: “After having sat at the table with leading parliamentarians, Jewish Women’s Aid, GetoutUK and other important voices in this ongoing conversation…together, we are exploring ways in which this law can be applied and developed to further assist in achieving halachically valid Gittin for even the most challenging situations.
“We are optimistic that this collaboration can achieve positive results.”
Statement from the Federation Beth Din pic.twitter.com/SgqST6AXjU
— The Federation (@FederationUK) July 14, 2021
The move was welcomed by Jewish peer Baroness Altmann, who has been instrumental in drafting the new legislation. She said “there were some misunderstandings which have hopefully been cleared up now”, and said that she hopes the Federation’s religious leaders “will engage with the Statutory Guidance process that will guide this legislation, in order that the law works as helpfully as possible, both to protect women against abuse and to facilitate their freedom to carry on with their lives as Orthodox Jewish women.
She added: “The UK law is clear and I am pleased to see the Batei Din statements that condemn those who make financial or other demands as a condition of the Get as abusers. This can help drive a change of attitudes whereby it is not considered acceptable for anyone to make financial or other demands as a condition of giving or receiving a Get.
“This law was changed in 2015 and has now been fully clarified, so this can be helpful for the Batei Din to focus on supporting and helping victims who suffer so much when going through a difficult divorce.”
Yehudis Fletcher, founder of Nahamu which fights religious extremism in the community, said: “I am pleased that the Federation have acknowledged that there is scope here for them to support legislation that will help victims of abuse.
“This is a good starting point, but it is just that, and nothing more. I would expect to see solid action points in the coming weeks that signify they are serious about this opportunity to stop their alienation of victims of abuse.
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