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A Get Law for Maryland?

What do you if you care about the fate of a “chained” woman, but your religious beliefs dictate that she can’t remarry until her estranged husband voluntarily signs a “get,” or bill of divorce?

For the ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, the answer is simple: Lobby state lawmakers to require the recalcitrant Jewish husband to sign on the religious dotted line before being granted a civil divorce.

Agudath officials called a get law for Maryland a “high priority” in a press release sent out last week, and are pushing hard for its passage during the 2007 session. Baltimore Democrats Sandy Rosenberg and Lisa Gladden are expected to introduce a bill in the near future.

Get laws have only been on the communal agenda in the handful of states with large Orthodox populations, and New York is the only state actually to have one on the books. While the New York law has stood since 1983, it seems fairly clear to constitutional experts that it violates the First Amendment, due to entanglement issues.

In Maryland, lawmakers have rejected a get bill several times in recent years. This time, however, Agudath has taken care to bring along more liberal allies, including the local Jewish Federation.

As the Forward has covered repeatedly in our pages, the Orthodox have generally championed keeping government out of their religious affairs, as they have during the ongoing fracas over a highly controversial circumcision procedure. (Faith-based iniatives are one prominent exception to this rule.)

It is worth noting that, as proposed, the Maryland bill would not challenge the underlying assumption that it is the male who has final control over the end of a marriage: A woman who initiates civil divorce has no way of compelling her husband to sign a get.

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