to get a get
A few years ago, I think it was one Rosh Hashana, my brother and I were staying at our parents’ place. and, as we do, we stayed up late watching tv together. there happened to be a doco on sbs (i think) about agunot in Israel – the Jewish women who are in ‘chained’ marriages – whose husbands refuse to give them a religious divorce ( a get). This doco (I have no idea what it was called, unfortunately) told us the stories of a few different women, and the efforts that they had to go to in their attempts to get their husbands to grant them a divorce. And it is, of course, an outrageous, patriarchal, system.
One of the moments of the film that stood out for me – that remains in my head – is when a woman had finally, finally, got her husband to appear at the rabbinical court to talk about the divorce. And she gently pushed him on some issue – I don’t remember what it was, but it was basically that she stood up for herself in the softest of ways – and he walked out. He just walked out. Because he could. And she screamed, this soul-breaking scream. They showed his back as he walked out, and the camera stayed in the corridor. And all we could hear was the screaming and the sobbing, and all we could see was the empty corridor.
My personal exodus
Not everyone can obey the teaching of the Sages that “a person must see herself as if she came out of Egypt.” Sharon went through her own personal exodus from bondage to freedom. She put her shocking story in writing, and sent it to me by fax. The following quotations are taken directly from the text that she sent me: “For 17 years I suffered untold torment. I was slapped, insulted, humiliated, even in the presence of friends and family. I was forbidden from having any contact with my family. I was cursed and criticized: ‘You are thick, dumb and stupid. Look how broad your shoulders are, how short your neck is and what a big mouth you have. Life became an endless hell. ”
Sharon explains how her husband targeted their eldest son for abuse, both physical and emotional. “My oldest son became my husband’s punching bag. I don’t know why he chose him. As a result, the child developed tics and spasms in his face and body. His father gashed his head open when he threw him against a wall and put his fist in the stomach. I wanted to protect him but I could not save him from those crazy punches. We took the child to a psychologist. I swallowed pills in order to put an end my life. ”
Regarding her sexual relationship, Sharon writes the following: “I refused to have sex with him. I hated him so much that I could not bear the touch of his finger on me. Then began the period of rape. He forced himself on me with such violence I could no longer resist. I gave up. I just felt how my life was emptying out of my soul, my body and my mind every day, more and more, until I was the walking dead. ”
Sharon tells about how she was forced to withdraw all her complaints to the police under threats from the husband and how her therapist advised her to “flee for her life.”
Sharon records the moment she reached the bottom of the pit from which it was only possible for her to go up: “I lived 17 years in the shadow of madness until the day that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We went in the evening to the supermarket (Sharon was not allowed to shop alone. Heaven forbid.), and while pushing my cart, I tried to choose fruits and vegetables. He started shouting that I did not even know how to choose fruit. ‘Shut up, stupid bitch …’ All the people in the supermarket heard him scream, and he is going on and on with no intention of stopping. I couldn’t take it anymore. I left everything and fled. I started walking in the dark to the police station, while he is following me for most of the way, shouting and swearing from the car and trying to force me to enter. I arrived at the police station where I met a representative of Na’amat who was there that night. She reassured me and encouraged me …”.
That same night, Sharon planned her exodus: “I planned to escape from the house a week before serving him with divorce papers. I rented a car. I booked a hotel in Jerusalem and in the morning, before the papers arrived, I was a bundle of nerves and tension. I felt that every minute I was going to faint. I waited for the moment that he left the house to bring his workers to the construction site. I knew I had about an hour until he came back to the house to check on me to see what I was doing (Sharon was not allowed to leave the house without her husband’s approval.).
“So I’m waiting for him to go. The boys went to school and suddenly he decides he wants to have sex with me, right there and then.
I knew if I refused, he would not go, and all hell would break loose. So I agreed. I felt my body go dead and that I was gathering the last drops of my ability to endure pain … After he finished he left and I took the two suitcases I had prepared ahead of time, entered the car, and drove to pick up the two boys from school. Of course they did not know anything about the plan. They were in shock and panic-stricken. I tied a handkerchief to my head and put on big sunglasses, lest, Heaven forbid, I see him on my way out. My brother kept a look out on the street to make sure that the way was clear. We set off for freedom and celebrated our victory: I had saved myself and my sons from total destruction in that madhouse. ”
Sharon moved from the hotel to her friend’s house, and began to work for the first time and to earn a salary. The children returned to their day to day routines. Her husband managed to find her, but could not force her back home. Sharon rehabilitated herself and, with great efforts, began to take back the night.
But, as we know, the exodus from Egypt is not good enough. You still have to make it to Sinai. Sharon needed a divorce. This story took place twenty years ago. The Petah Tikva Rabbinic Court ruled: “We did not find any reason under the halacha to force the husband to divorce his wife … The woman should heed her husband’s request of reconciliation. The Supreme Rabbinic Court overturned the decision of the district court recommending that the couple reconcile, but refused to order the husband to give the get. Two years ago, when Sharon told me her story, she had still been denied a get – for over 18 years!