Facebook Post Helps ‘Chained’ Woman Win Her Freedom

Madness,” declared the Facebook post written by Jewish women’s activist, rabbinic pleader and writer Rivkah Lubitch on a Hebrew-language Facebook group devoted to the treatment of women in religious Jewish law.

“This is urgent…. An attorney is standing at this very moment with a woman who has been refused a religious divorce, whose husband has agreed, after four years, to give her the divorce — and the rabbinical court says that religious divorces are not arranged on Rosh Hodesh [the first day of the Hebrew calendar month]! Contact me with ideas. We’ve already tried beating our heads against the wall.”

Lubitch’s post, on a Facebook group whose Hebrew name translates as the tongue-in-cheek “I’m a *religious* feminist and I, too, have no sense of humor,” caused a tidal wave of activity that resulted in media outlets sending queries to the rabbinical court. It drew hundreds of “likes” and comments.

The woman, who lives in France, arrived in Israel several days ago to receive her divorce. The couple, who had been married for 12 years and had five children, completed their negotiations – in which the woman gave up most of her financial and custody rights — and gave the rabbinate a divorce agreement signed by both of them. Still, according to Nitzan Caspi Shilony, the woman’s attorney, the court would not arrange the divorce on the day they arrived.

When the woman returned to the rabbinical court on Sunday morning, she was told that religious divorces were not supposed to be arranged on Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Hebrew month, which coincided with that day. But Jewish law stipulates that a get may be arranged on Rosh Hodesh in extraordinary cases, such as fear of rendering the woman an agunah (a “chained” or “anchored” woman, the term used to describe a woman who cannot obtain a religious divorce and is therefore not free to remarry).

This was exactly the woman’s situation, according to Lubitch, but the rabbinical court was prepared to send her away empty-handed. Lubitch’s post did not specify why the granting of the get could not simply take place on Tuesday, when the Rosh Hodesh days were over, but it is possible that there was a concern that the husband would withdraw his consent, which is a necessary ingredient for a divorce according to Jewish law.

That was when Lubitch issued her call for help over social media. In the ensuing wave of activity, calls were made to Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, the Justice Ministry, the office of the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Courts Administration, and to journalists from media outlets all over the country. Finally, following the intervention of the presiding rabbinical judge in Jerusalem, Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, the get was issued.

Before the woman received the religious divorce for which she waited so long, Caspi Shilony slammed, in an interview with the Haaretz daily, what she called “the infuriating situation in which the courts create obstacles and come up with esoteric laws to make things difficult for agunot and women who have been refused religious divorces.”

“Many thanks to all of you,” Rivkah Lubitch wrote on the Facebook wall of the group. “It seems that it is ending well…. And all because of the noise I made here on social media. Well done. You have saved this woman. Because of the post I wrote, countless journalists called me for the story. Contact was made with a rabbinic judge who was willing to help…. I’m speechless.”

Another poster shared a response from the rabbinical court, also before the divorce was finally granted: “The Rabbinical Courts Administration regrets the contemptible commotion made over the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. The report that smeared its reputation was circulated while the parties were meeting there. The case is being examined by the rabbinic judges and the administrative staff as to how the get can be arranged. In the end, the rabbinical court acted beyond the call of duty and arranged the get between the parties.”

Shortly before the get was finally given, attorney Caspi Shilony wrote a separate post on the Facebook group summing up the affair: “Today we were witnesses once more to the strength of the group, and of the medium [of social media] in general… She has won her freedom after giving up many financial rights, and after a struggle and difficulties that the rabbinical court tried to put in her way.”

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