In her Sisterhood post “On Agunah Issue, Pressure Rabbis, Not Rep,” Dvora Meyers takes on a grassroots campaign to pressure Michigan Rep. Dave Camp to condemn what we consider to be abusive behavior by his staffer, Aharon Friedman. In the past, Camp has called Friedman’s refusal to grant his wife a Jewish divorce decree, or a get, “gossip.” It is time for Camp to recognize this error and do what is right.
The facts of this case are not under dispute. Friedman married Tamar Epstein in April 2006. The marriage failed, and Friedman and Epstein were civilly divorced in 2010, after being separated for two years. For Epstein, an Orthodox Jew, civil divorce is insufficient. Jewish law mandates a religious divorce decree, or get, which must be consented to by both parties. But Friedman has refused thus far to give Epstein a get, and that shows a basic disregard for human decency. He’s been banned from his synagogue, and a prominent rabbinical court has issued a public declaration condemning his intransigence.
In effect, Epstein is an agunah, or a “chained woman.” She cannot remarry in a religious ceremony. And because Epstein is an Orthodox Jew, that effectively means that Friedman (also Orthodox) is deliberately preventing her from remarrying.
This case is unique because of the outpouring of social and other media pressure. Meyers argues that it is wrong to ask Camp to condemn the abusive behavior of his staffer. Instead, she argues, activists should petition Orthodox rabbis to amend Jewish law.
We are not experts in Jewish law, and we will not debate whether such a change is feasible. Currently, no such solution has gained widespread acceptance among Orthodox rabbis. Yet that does not release us from our obligation to do everything in our power to release agunot from their chains. In our case, this includes using all available means to pressure Rep. Camp to denounce his employee. Neither Camp nor Meyers can seriously argue that it is wrong to bring social pressure to bear on a congressman who refuses to condemn acts of spousal abuse committed by staffers.
Furthermore, Meyers argues that Orthodox rabbis haven’t done enough to embrace solutions to the agunah crisis. She believes the Halachic Prenuptial Agreement, endorsed by many leading Orthodox rabbis, isn’t enough of a solution to the plight of agunot. We believe that the prenup is the most viable long-term solution. For those who are not familiar with it, the Halachic Prenuptial Agreement imposes a financial penalty on the person who refuses to grant the get. It is a financial deterrent against emotional abuse.
The Halachic Prenup has gained many supporters among Orthodox rabbis. To our knowledge, it has been 100% percent effective in cases in which it has been properly signed. The only problem is implementation: Rabbis should affirm that they will only officiate at weddings at which this sort of prenup is signed, and congregants should encourage rabbis to disseminate the prenup, so that no other woman will have to suffer the way Epstein is suffering.
Camp was recently named a “Champion for children, marriage, and family” by the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education. So how can he justify doing nothing to support Epstein in her plight?
We are saddened that in her efforts to engage in heartfelt activism on behalf of chained women, Meyers misses the point that what we are doing is for a real person, not just for an idea.
The authors are part of an online campaign on behalf of Tamar Epstein.