Open Doors - Women testimonies from the Rabbinical courts

Name:

Shira

"I told him he was required to give you a get, but, what are you willing to relinquish?"

Age: 51

Time spent fighting for Get: 11 years

Year of Get: 2013

Following our decision to get divorced in 2002, we signed a divorce agreement via a mediator in which he promised to give me a get. By the end of that year we filed for divorce at the Beit Din.

From the moment I entered the Beit Din I felt hostility and alienation. It began when they dressed me in a blue robe because, in their opinion, I wasn’t dressed modestly enough. I don’t wear exposed clothing, but nonetheless they gave me the feeling that I needed to conceal myself. This experience in itself caused me to feel I was going back hundreds of years in time. Every time we arrived for a hearing, my husband refused to give me a get as long as he had “financial sanctions”, referring to the alimony he was obligated to provide me until he gave me a get. We’d have a hearing every few months, during which my husband would state his refusal to give me a get, the dayanim would tell him he promised and that he was obligated to do so, and when he wasn’t convinced by the rabbi’s statement the hearing would end. The dayanim did not object, nor did they issue sanctions to urge him to give me a get.

During one such hearing, he was repeatedly asked if he was willing to give me a get. His response: “Yes, but I am only willing to give her a get because of the financial sanctions.” The dayanim stopped him and said: “no, no. If there’s a ‘but’ you aren’t really ready. There’s no get.” If, at that moment, the dayanim would have accepted his agreement to give me a get with or without the financial sanctions, this problem would have been solved and I would have walked out with a get. [Instead], these hearings continued for close to 10 years. After 8 years, my status changed to ‘aguna’. From then on, the Beit Din took on the exclusive responsibility to locate my husband. At that time we didn’t know where he lived. He was in hiding, didn’t pay alimony, and also accumulated debt with the execution office. When the responsibility of acquiring the get was transferred to the Beit Din, a representative of the agunot department called me and began a negotiation, saying: “I was able to locate your husband. I told him he was required to give you a get ,but- what are you willing to relinquish? You should lower your demands, otherwise you won’t get anything.” I argued, but ultimately I gave up and agreed to lower the amount from 700,000 NIS to 200,000 NIS. The rabbi called back two days later and explained that my husband was still refusing to provide a get with that amount, and the negotiations resumed. The rabbi attempted to convince me that there was no other choice, he said that in his opinion I would get nothing, and urged me to cancel the execution office file and relinquish the entire sum he owed me in order to receive the get. Following more negotiations, I agreed to cancel the execution office file and relinquish the money under the condition that he’d provide my get along with 500 NIS each month. I felt I no longer had the strength. I had to close that door, put it behind me and start a new life, so I agreed. Eventually he only paid that amount once and then stopped. Out of the 700,00 NIS he owed me, I received only 500 NIS. I essentially bought the get with 700,000 NIS.

Today, and also throughout the entire process, I felt that the dayanim simply desired to close the file, finish up with it, put it aside and say they were done dealing with this problem. Perhaps they solved this problem but they created another- a 51-year-old mother of 2 with no home, car and possessions. I have nothing. Nothing remains; I have no home, car or possessions. I moved in with my parents because I have nowhere to live. I have been working very hard in order to seek solutions.

The hearings themselves were not forthright. The dayanim didn’t put him in his place, did not impose sanctions they had in their power to, did not prevent anything from him, absolutely nothing. They simply asked him nicely to give me a get, and when he refused, the answer was always: “OK, so we’ll meet at the next hearing.” I felt as though attending the hearings was unnecessary, simply a waste of time. Throughout all these years, the dayanim didn’t require him to give me a get nor did they impose any sanctions. Nothing. It seemed as though they attended the hearings with the sole intention of closing the case.

The Beit Din did not initiate any kind of work, did not [try to] convince him or require [anything of] him. Rather [they] simply [said]: “You want/ don’t want [to give a get]- OK, we will meet at the next hearing.” This is how I was made to feel in the Beit Din. I am very disappointed and wish I could have changed it. The dayanim were not attentive to me. They didn’t ask me how I was managing or if he was seeing the children. They weren’t interested in the rest of the story, they didn’t care that he became addicted to gambling, lost all of his money, that he moved away and was required to give me a get! Needless to say, it was the obligation of the Beit Din to release me from this relationship. The dayanim didn’t look at the problem at all, but rather at the get itself- whether or not my husband was willing to provide it. They didn’t regard the situation as one in which he was actually obligated to give me a get.

I felt unable to speak during the hearings. I felt they didn’t allow me to express myself. I would try to speak and they wouldn’t allow me to. I would arrive feeling as if I was in a weak spot. I felt that no one there cared about me or about the situation, nor were they interested in justice. I didn’t feel like anyone was there by my side. There is no justice. It is all a matter of who is more stubborn, who will put up a stronger fight. I felt immense hopelessness and frustration during the hearings.

There were times I brought a guard along with me because my husband experienced rage attacks and my family feared he would attack me.   

I felt horrible. TheBeit Din didn’t use all of their resources to cause my husband to give me a get– the dayanim could have been more forthright with him, threaten him with sanctions, put more pressure on him, search for him when he disappeared, but that didn’t happen. He was not pressured whatsoever to give me a get. Instead, all of the pressure was directed towards me- to get me to compromise, to relinquish what I was entitled to. In other words, a person attends a hearing, knows that he will say he doesn’t want to give me a get and returns home. I, on the other hand, am the one who is working, maintaining a household without receiving a cent, I’m the one who has to take days off from work to attend the hearings, who needs emotional strength to withstand these situations and who has to deal with this helplessness. Helplessness because in this country, as a woman, you have no rights. When you enter the Beit Din you go back to the middle ages, where you are entitled to nothing. Because of my husband’s refusal to give me a get I was unable to receive alimony from social security. There were years during which no hearings took place. My husband disappeared and I already gave in, stopped running after him for a get. When the state didn’t help me, I remained penniless and was unable to survive, maintain my household and raise my daughters. I received different treatment by the Beit Din than my husband did. The dayanim weren’t violent, but they were simply apathetic to the situation and to anything I had to say. Ever since I have distanced myself from religion. In the past I was traditional, but I developed an aversion, anger and bitterness towards the religious entity and towards religious coercion. I have no confidence or trust in the Beit Din. Because of everything I went through, when my daughters decide to get married, they will not marry via the Rabanut. I come from a traditional home and this experience caused me to flee from religion and to renounce tradition.

"The rabbi attempted to convince me that there was no other choice, he said that in his opinion I would get nothing, and urged me to cancel the execution office file and relinquish the entire sum he owed me in order to receive the get. Following more negotiations, I agreed to cancel the execution office file and relinquish the money under the condition that he'd provide my get along with 500 NIS each month. I felt I no longer had the strength. I had to close that door, put it behind me and start a new life, so I agreed."

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