“This is what the LORD says: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? … When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer?” (Isaiah 50:1-2).
There is a great deal of activity on the part of women’s organizations on the subject of get refusal, but such refusal is not only a problem affecting women: violence, extortion, injustice and exploitation of the legal system are human phenomena against which any decent society must fight.
The problem of get refusal – and awareness of the problem – is not new; the halakhic literature attests to a two-thousand-year-old struggle with this problem. In the aggadic literature, too, we see a high degree of awareness of the societal and psychological aspects of get refusal:
“ ‘She was as a widow’ […] – Like a king who was angry with a wife and wrote her a bill of divorce and snatched it from her; and when she wanted to marry another he would say to her, ‘Where is your bill of divorce?’ and when she sued for her maintenance, he would say to her ‘But haven’t I already divorced you?’” (Midrash Eikhah Rabbah 1:3).
In the genre of Parables of the King, G-d is likened to a king and the Jewish nation to His wife, His son and His servant. This parable relates to the description of the city of Jerusalem lying in ruins: “It was like a widow” (a mesorevet get is called a “living widow” – not a real widow, but “like a widow”). The woman in this parable is subject to her husband’s power, and he abuses his power in order to control her and cause her to suffer, while on his part he is not dependent upon her, he is not prepared to live with her nor to fulfill his obligations towards her. According to the parable, we are a nation of mesoravot get to G-d; to the teller of the parable, get refusal is the manifestation of our overall problem; in the distress of one woman he sees the essence of the problems of the entire nation.
The teller of the parable in Eikhah Rabbah laments over an age-old problem. The social problem that he presents is, in our day, one that can be solved. Today, too, get refusal is one specific arena in which the central and most comprehensive tensions in Jewish Israeli society are pitted against each other; this problem constitutes a question that is inseparable from the question of the status of women in society, in religion and in the family in Israel; from the tension of the relationship between state and religion, between tradition and change, and between authority and autonomy; and from the complex transition of Judaism from a minority to a State, and from a community to a bureaucracy. Therefore, the failure of Israeli society in its confrontation with the problem of get refusal can be understood as a side effect of the human difficulty of looking in the mirror and confronting harsh reality and conflicted identity.