In a recent column, USA based attorney Alan Dershowitz protested the detainment of a US citizen in Israel, a citizen whose sole crime, according to Dershowitz, is the fact that he happens to have a son who refuses to give a religious divorce (get) to his ex-wife who lives in Israel. The gist of Dershowitz’s claim is that innocent fathers should not be punished for the sins of their sons.
But Dershowitz is mistaken about this case. In a precedential ruling, the Rabbinical Court accepted the extensive evidence and testimonies presented in the matter, all of which supported that the father of the recalcitrant husband was, himself, directly responsible for the woman’s aginut (the state whereby a woman is “chained” to her marriage).
The father is not being detained in Israel as punishment for his son’s behavior, but solely for the reason that – as was proven in court – he is the one responsible for the wife’s horrible state of aginut. This US citizen has been holding his daughter-in-law in a state of marital captivity for the past 13 years, ever since she was abandoned by her husband after she suffered a stroke, even as she continued to care for their daughter and weeks-old infant.
In the wake of numerous appeals filed by the husband’s father, the case was also tried before the Grand Rabbinical Court of Appeals and even found its way to the Israeli Supreme Court. The ruling stating that the husband’s father is directly responsible for the wife’s state of marital captivity, the igun, still stands.
Dershowitz refers to the US citizen’s advanced age and frail health. But in this matter the Rabbinical Court has already decided in favor of his release in order him to undergo medical treatment in the US – in any form, at any time – in return for a monetary guarantee that would ensure his return to Israel after he regains his strength. The amount of the guarantee was set at the sum previously suggested by the father himself in return for his release.
Surprisingly, the man in question – nicknamed by the media “ha’gvir hame’agen” (“the wealthy enchainer”) owing to his extreme affluence, excellent connections and social prominence – ultimately decided not to leave Israel for medical treatment abroad, preferring instead to remain in Israel.
To cut a long story short: The man in question has been responsible for a woman’s state of marital captivity for more than a decade. It is he who holds her freedom in his hands. Is it conceivable to release him because of his age, his health or his citizenship, when the key to the woman’s freedom rests deep in his pocket?
For 13 years this woman has been compelled to live with in chains of marriage that she seeks to unlock. There are two who hold the keys – the husband and his father – with the latter standing firm in his support of his recalcitrant son. The gvir hame’agen is responsible for her captivity, unless proven otherwise.
During our many years of work with agunot and women who have been denied their get, we oftentimes come across those who help perpetuate the woman’s state of captivity by assisting the husband in his persistent refusal. The hardcore recalcitrant husbands do not usually operate in a vacuum; they enjoy the backing of their close friends and family who often encourage, assist and even support leaving the wife in her chained state.
A supportive and enabling environment can provide the recalcitrant husband with what he needs to persevere in his distortion of justice for such prolonged periods of time. And those who show mercy to the cruel are ultimately cruel to the merciful.
Pnina Omer is the director of OTS’s Yad La’isha: the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for Agunot and Mesuravot Get, which is representing the aguna in this case