Orthodox rabbis have come under fire for rejecting a new law aimed at protecting “chained” women, as campaigners argue refusing a religious divorce is “a form of domestic abuse.”
The Federation of Synagogues Beis Din (rabbinic court) said this week that it could not approve a Get (religious divorce) for agunot who seek 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 in March, now means a man who refuses a Get will be deemed as exerting “controlling and coercive behaviour”, which is listed as a criminal offence.
The Federation told its members that “regrettably, the Government’s commitment to include Get refusal” in the bill “was apparently given without meaningful consultation with Halachic authorities or due consideration of Halachic principles.”
It said a Get must be given by mutual consent, and not under the threat of duress, financial penalty or imprisonment.
As a result, “beis din is plainly not able to arrange a Get that has no validity in Halacha [religious law]”.
The Federation added that “ironically, a law that was intended to assist agunos (chained women) has in fact created the potential for an agunah to find herself in a situation in which it will be almost impossible for her to receive her Get”.
Baroness Ros Altmann, who was one of peers to put forward the Bill, told the JC that her “heart breaks” over the statement, saying the senior rabbis “have misunderstood the situation” and “seem to be saying ..a woman who is a victim of abuse can’t protect herself. And if she tries to protect herself in British law, she finds that the religious courts are on the side of the abuser. It’s not my idea of religion”.
In a statement, Jewish Women’s Aid said “it has always been very clear that Get refusal is a form of domestic abuse.”
The statement added: “We have supported countless women over the years to obtain their Get, so that they can leave their marriage religiously and live the life they choose.
“We were part of the working group that advocated for Get refusal to be recognised as an example of coercive and controlling behaviour in the Domestic Abuse Act, with the goal of deterring Jewish husbands from subjecting their wives to this harmful and unjust treatment.
“Following recent statements by Batei Din regarding women who may want to initiate criminal proceedings against their husbands due to them refusing to grant a Get, we have initiated communication with the Federation Beis Din and the London Beth Din to discuss our concerns and find a way to move forward in the best interests of chained women.
“Our overriding aim remains to support abused women. We will continue to do this and want to reassure Jewish women that we are here to support them on this issue.”
“Notwithstanding the above, it behoves us all to redouble our efforts to find alternative solutions for agunot, and the London Beth Din will always consider each case on its merits. The London Beth Din leaves no stone unturned in our efforts to support agunot and resolve their cases.”
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