The Jewish Chronicle

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll: Free the agunot

Thousands of abused Jewish women are being deprived of a divorce by their husbands

- By Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll

THE JEWISH internet has been ablaze the past few weeks with extreme cases of get refusal and domestic abuse. These cases have highlighte­d what is wrong — and what can be right — about Jewish marriage and divorce. Shira Attias was beaten nearly to death by her husband on the eve of Rosh Hashana last year in Mitzpe Rimon, Israel. After months of surgery and rehabilita­tion, she filed for divorce. Her husband, Aviad Moshe, refused. The case drew national headlines for weeks and the public was suitably outraged. The rabbinic court judges threatened Moshe, already in jail for her assault, with solitary confinemen­t. He gave the get.

In the US, Chava Sharabani has been waiting over 10 years for her get. Her refuser, Naftali Sharabani, lives freely in Los Angeles. When singer Dalia Oziel posted about Chava’s plight on her Instagram account, asking her followers to share the informatio­n about Naftali’s refusal, she sparked a revolution. Jewish women continue to follow the story and have posted Naftali’s face and name thousands of times. Oziel has not let up and in the words of the Lakewood Beth Din, succeeded in doing what they couldn’t (getting Naftali to respond to the Beth Din) for what they had considered a “dead case”.

There are many Shiras and Chavas — thousands of Jewish women around the world waiting for their freedom. The only reason these two have seen movement in the rabbinic courts is the public attention they garnered. In Israel alone, there are numerous other women, abused by their husbands and still awaiting their freedom.

It should not take a national outcry or an Instagram influencer to get the Jewish courts to free these women.

It must be said that there are options within Jewish law to dissolve dead marriages. They have been used for millennia. However, none of these are universall­y accepted and though there are brave rabbis and courts who do use them, they’ve been all but abandoned by most.

But there are steps that rabbinic organisati­ons and courts around the world can take immediatel­y, even without using halachic tools, to make a massive difference for women.

First, refuse extortion. Naftali, like many other husbands witholding a get, is demanding money in exchange for his wife’s freedom. Rabbinic courts need to shut this down. It must be made clear that a woman’s freedom is not up for ransom and that rabbis won’t sanction such behaviour. No woman should be made to pay for her freedom.

Second, recognise get refusal as abuse. In the UK, coercive or controllin­g behaviour laws have been used to free women since 2019, allowing them to receive a get. The threat of criminal action was the motivation these men needed to free their wives. The rabbinic courts should follow this lead. Shira won her freedom because images of her slashed face were on every major newspaper and media outlet. The Beth Din could not possibly deny the abuse done to her. There must be the same zero tolerance in all cases.

Third, make a wall of shame. Get refusers should not be able to live free and in the clear while chaining their spouses up. Their names and pictures should be publicised and kept on a database accessible to the public. Numerous men have given the get when faced with widespread public condemnati­on.

Fourth, no cold cases. The idea that Chava, a 35-year-old woman, is considered a “dead case” while her husband runs free in LA is shocking. Many cases in rabbinic courts have been resolved simply by not giving up and using creative thinking to solve them. The notion that we “give up” and raise our hands in defeat, allowing a man (women can refuse too but it is far more often men who deny a get) to chain his wife to a dead marriage is unacceptab­le.

Fifth, halachic prenups. While not currently used in UK rabbinic courts, these documents are used to prevent get abuse by starting a couple on the right foot, protecting one another from their worst selves. The document calls for an upkeep sum to be paid by the spouse that refuses divorce after a certain amount of time, incentivis­ing the spouse to recognise that the marriage is over.

These concepts can be easily implemente­d, should we choose to protect the dignity of Jewish women and the integrity of Jewish marriage. Civil courts, social media shaming, public interest; is this the best we can do for Jewish marriage? Let Shira and Chava be the impetus for systemic change. Let us declare: No more get abuse.

There are steps that rabbinic organisati­ons and courts around the world can take immediatel­y to make a difference’

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