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Using media as a weapon in the agunah fight

by Talia Lavin, JTA

November 5, 2013 | 2:43 pm

Screen shot from FreeTamar.org.

Screen shot from FreeTamar.org.

The websites look like those of political prisoners.

Under the caption “Free Tamar Now!” there is a close-up photo of demonstrators with signs and megaphones. “Stop the abuse,” one sign reads.

But FreeTamar.org and the Free Gital Facebook group seek emancipation not from literal bars or chains. Rather, they seek liberation for agunot — so-called chained women being denied religious writs of divorce from their husbands.

Under Jewish law, divorces are not final until the husband gives his wife the writ, known as a get. If a husband refuses, the woman cannot remarry; any intimate relationship with another man is considered adultery. Children born from such a relationship are considered mamzers, a category of illegitimacy under Jewish law that carries severe restrictions.

Under Jewish law, women chained to recalcitrant husbands have little recourse, and the problem of agunot long has plagued the Jewish community. In one recent case that garnered broad media attention, the FBI arrested several men in New York who allegedly kidnapped and tortured recalcitrant husbands — for fees of tens of thousands of dollars.

A more common and increasingly popular tactic agunot advocates are adopting to try to compel recalcitrant husbands to relent and grant their wives gets is the public shaming campaign.

Gital Doderson, 25, of Lakewood, N.J., brought her divorce fight to the front page of the New York Post on Tuesday. After three years of pursuing but failing to obtain a get from her husband, Dodelson wrote, “I’ve decided to go public with my story after exhausting every other possible means. The Orthodox are fiercely private, but I am willing to air my dirty laundry if it means I can finally get on with my life.”

The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, known as ORA, is at the forefront of a campaign to harness public remonstrance as a means to thwart recalcitrant husbands.

Using the slogan “Get-refusal is a form of domestic abuse,” ORA, in cooperation with Yeshiva University, has organized rallies outside the homes of recalcitrant husbands like Albert Srour and Ephraim Ohana. Their website features a “Recalcitrant Husbands” page that prominently displays the images of husbands who refuse gets to their wives.

When Aharon Friedman, an aide to U.S. Representative Dave Camp, refused his wife, Tamar, a get, ORA took out a billboard ad on the DC Metro, with his face emblazoned against a demand to “Give a get now!”

“If and when we’ve exhausted all amicable means of resolving the situation, we will try to get him ostracized, and publicize his name,” Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director of ORA, told JTA.

The jury (or beit din) is still out on whether this tactic will prove more effective than other attempts to sway recalcitrant husbands. What is certain is that the spate of recent media coverage about agunot is drawing broad attention to a problem more often contained within certain segments of the Jewish community.

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