Free­dom is not with the Rab­bini­cal Court – but in the hands of the hus­band and his fa­ther

The Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - • By PNINA OMER

In a re­cent col­umn, USAbased at­tor­ney Alan Der­showitz protested the de­tain­ment of a US ci­ti­zen in Is­rael, a ci­ti­zen whose sole crime, ac­cord­ing to Der­showitz, is the fact that he hap­pens to have a son who re­fuses to give a re­li­gious di­vorce (get) to his ex-wife who lives in Is­rael. The gist of Der­showitz’s claim is that in­no­cent fa­thers should not be pun­ished for the sins of their sons.

But Der­showitz is mis­taken about this case. In a prece­den­tial rul­ing, the Rab­bini­cal Court ac­cepted the ex­ten­sive ev­i­dence and tes­ti­monies pre­sented in the mat­ter, all of which sup­ported that the fa­ther of the re­cal­ci­trant hus­band was, him­self, di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the woman’s ag­inut (the state whereby a woman is “chained” to her mar­riage).

The fa­ther is not be­ing de­tained in Is­rael as pun­ish­ment for his son’s be­hav­ior, but solely for the rea­son that – as was proven in court – he is the one re­spon­si­ble for the wife’s hor­ri­ble state of ag­inut.

This US ci­ti­zen has been hold­ing his daugh­ter-in-law in a state of mar­i­tal cap­tiv­ity for the past 13 years, ever since she was aban­doned by her hus­band af­ter she suf­fered a stroke, even as she con­tin­ued to care for their daugh­ter and week­sold in­fant.

In the wake of nu­mer­ous ap­peals filed by the hus­band’s fa­ther, the case was also tried be­fore the Grand Rab­bini­cal Court of Ap­peals and even found its way to the Is­raeli Supreme Court. The rul­ing stat­ing that the hus­band’s fa­ther is di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the wife’s state of mar­i­tal cap­tiv­ity, the igun, still stands.

Der­showitz refers to the US ci­ti­zen’s ad­vanced age and frail health. But in this mat­ter the Rab­bini­cal Court has al­ready de­cided in fa­vor of his re­lease in or­der him to un­dergo med­i­cal treat­ment in the US – in any form, at any time – in re­turn for a mon­e­tary guar­an­tee that would en­sure his re­turn to Is­rael af­ter he regains his strength. The amount of the guar­an­tee was set at the sum pre­vi­ously sug­gested by the fa­ther him­self in re­turn for his re­lease.

Sur­pris­ingly, the man in ques­tion – nick­named by the me­dia “ha’gvir hame’agen” (“the wealthy en­chainer”) ow­ing to his ex­treme af­flu­ence, ex­cel­lent con­nec­tions and so­cial promi­nence – ul­ti­mately de­cided not to leave Is­rael for med­i­cal treat­ment abroad, pre­fer­ring in­stead to re­main in Is­rael.

To cut a long story short: The man in ques­tion has been re­spon­si­ble for a woman’s state of mar­i­tal cap­tiv­ity for more than a decade. It is he who holds her free­dom in his hands. Is it con­ceiv­able to re­lease him be­cause of his age, his health or his cit­i­zen­ship, when the key to the woman’s free­dom rests deep in his pocket?

For 13 years this woman has been com­pelled to live within chains of mar­riage that she seeks to un­lock. There are two who hold the keys – the hus­band and his fa­ther – with the lat­ter stand­ing firm in his sup­port of his re­cal­ci­trant son. The gvir hame’agen is re­spon­si­ble for her cap­tiv­ity, un­less proven other­wise.

Dur­ing our many years of work with agunot and women who have been de­nied their get, we of­ten­times come across those who help per­pet­u­ate the woman’s state of cap­tiv­ity by as­sist­ing the hus­band in his per­sis­tent re­fusal. The hard­core re­cal­ci­trant hus­bands do not usu­ally op­er­ate in a vac­uum; they en­joy the back­ing of their close friends and fam­ily who of­ten en­cour­age, as­sist and even sup­port leav­ing the wife in her chained state.

A sup­port­ive and en­abling en­vi­ron­ment can pro­vide the re­cal­ci­trant hus­band with what he needs to per­se­vere in his dis­tor­tion of jus­tice for such pro­longed pe­ri­ods of time. And those who show mercy to the cruel are ul­ti­mately cruel to the mer­ci­ful.

The writer is di­rec­tor of Yad L’isha: The Mon­ica Den­nis Gold­berg Le­gal Aid Cen­ter, part of the Ohr To­rah Stone net­work, which rep­re­sents the aguna in this case.

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