Thursday, March 01, 2012

Tamar Epstein – Agunah!

The Agunah problem is one of the most difficult issues plaguing Judaism today. Technically an Agunah is a woman who is in doubt about whether her husband is dead or alive. As result she may never marry another man lest her husband is still alive, whereabouts unknown. If that is indeed the case then she is still married to her first husband. Marrying another man would be considered adultery and subsequent children of the new couple would be considered Mamzerim.

Although these circumstances are uncommon - what we refer to as an Agunah today is not. The way in which ithe term is applied today is to a woman whose husband refuses to give her a Get – a Halachicly valid Jewish divorce. The effect is the same. Such a woman is still Halachicly married to her husband. This is true even if she no longer lives with him and has a civil divorce. If she would remarry and have children they would be Mamzerim. She is in effect a chained woman. Chained Halachicly to a husband in a marriage that no longer exists in any practical way.

The same, however, is not true for a man. He too may not marry without giving a Get to his wife. His marriage is forbidden by virtue of a Cherem - an injunction issued over a thousand years ago by Rabbenu Gershom forbidding polygamy. And there are even ways he can get around that prohibition. But even if he doesn't and violates the Cherem D'Rabbenu Gershom, gets married without a Get and has children – they are not Mamzerim.

An Agunah has no such option. In Judaism a man must give a divorce – a Get – to his wife. She cannot not give one to her husband.

Although this is the Halacha there is nonetheless an inherent injustice in this. The Rabbis have always recognized this and have tried to find ways to force recalcitrant husbands to give their wives a Get.

(Altough technically a forced Get is invalid, the Rambam Paskins that we exert pressure on a recalcitrant husband until he says “I willingly will give her a Get”. The rationale being that a Jew always want’s to do the right thing and that applying pressure will get him to realize that giving a get is the right thing to do after all.)

What kind of pressure? There is one case in Israel where the Israeli Rabbinate sentenced a recalcitrant husband to 10 years in prison or until he gives his wife a Get. He served his sentence without giving one. The rabbinate re-sentenced him indefinitely saying that his fate in prison is in his own hands. If he gives his wife a Get he walks out of prison the same day. Last I heard he is still in prison.

This brings me to another case here in the United States. It has made the news because of the prominent position the recalcitrant husband has. He is a congressional aide to a powerful congressman.

I realize that there are always two sides to a story. But I don’t believe that the husband in this case has ever publicly presented his side. Which makes me a bit suspect about any claim he might make in his defense. If there were any, we should probably have known about it by now. I have no clue why he refuses to give his wife a Get. But his lack of doing so is unconscionable I my view.

I have been asked to post an appeal to sign a petition for Tamar Epstein the Agunah in this case. I have agreed. The following brief description of the case which accompanied the request. It which includes a link to a petition which I have signed.

Aharon Friedman is a congressional committee aide for the prominent House Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican. He has also refused to give his wife a Get.

Get refusal is emotional abuse and a distortion of the Halachic system.

Tamar Epstein and Aharon Friedman have been separated for almost 4 years and civilly divorced for nearly 2 years. All issues relating to the divorce, custody and visitation have been settled, yet Aharon has refused to give Tamar a Get. He has also refused to appear before Beis Din and as a result a Seruv (Order of Contempt) has been issued against him - signed by Rabbis Yisroel Belsky, Hershel Schachter, and Shmuel Kamenetsky amongst others.

Unfortunately Representative Camp has turned a blind eye to the immoral behavior being perpetrated by his staffer, calling this incident mere ‘gossip’.

If you care about helping to free a young woman, about women’s rights or showing the world that this a perversion of Jewish law, please join the almost 4,000 who have signed a petition urging Representative Camp to take a stand against abuse and to publicly condemn all forms of emotional abuse including Get Refusal.

Please take 1 minute to join the almost 4,000 people who have already signed the Petition.

Never underestimate the power of an individual. Take a look at the media blitz that has been generated in the short period of the public has rallied around this issue on social media outlets.

Fox News
The Jewish Week

Thank you for your help and support.