“It’s like being in prison, in handcuffs. You’re prohibited from doing anything… No one can come near you. You belong to someone.”
This, according to Shlomit, is what it feels like to be trapped in a marriage by a man refusing to grant you a divorce. The mother of four and a client of Yad L’isha: the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, Shlomit shared her story on Israeli Channel 1 News last Saturday night, in a special segment on get-refusal and the phenomenon of extortion which so often accompanies it.
Shlomit’s husband responded to her divorce request over two years ago by escaping abroad. At first he demanded half the house in exchange for a divorce, and then he started asking for money. Recently he added the purchase of his airplane ticket and travel expenses to the package. “These are his conditions,” related Shlomit, “there’s nothing to discuss.”
Shlomit was one of two women featured in the news report; the other, Fanny, was freed by Yad L’isha after spending 10 years in chains. Like Shlomit, Fanny was also faced with a husband who demanded financial concessions in exchange for her get; like Shlomit, she refused.
“I was married for 21 years. There was violence – physical and verbal, and the children were involved. I thought that I just needed to decide that I wanted a divorce and that I would receive one. But it isn’t like that,” Fanny said.
“Time after time, the court sent me home; they wanted me to make ‘shlom bayit‘ – domestic peace. But throughout the years in the rabbinical courts, they would say, ‘Give him such and such amount of money, and then you will receive your get,'” she related. “I am lucky, that I wasn’t at an age that I wanted to remarry or have more children. So I didn’t agree, because I had this feeling that there had to be some sort of justice here.”
Get-Refusal is Violence
Jewish law doesn’t consider a man blackmailing his wife in exchange for a get to be a recalcitrant husband because, after all, he is willing to give his wife a divorce – she is simply not accepting of his terms. “But from our point of view, a man who is extorting his wife for the get falls under the category of get-refuser,” maintained Yad L’isha Director Pnina Omer in the television report. “He doesn’t have the ethical, moral or religious right to coerce her and therefore, a man who blackmails is a violent man,” she declared.
Indeed, get-refusal is a form of violence which – unlike physical, verbal, sexual or emotional abuse – might not immediately be recognized as such. This is why Yad L’isha created a campaign to mark last Friday’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women under the banner, “Get-Refusal is Violence.”
“Our goal was to educate the public that get-refusal is another very real and cruel form of abuse, which must be recognized publicly and rooted out of our society,” says Omer. “The Channel 1 story certainly reached thousands and hopefully helped open people’s eyes to the extent of the problem. At the same time, we want women everywhere to know that until a solution is found – we at Yad L’isha are here for them, for their friends, their sisters or their daughters.”
View the Channel 1 news segment (in Hebrew) on the Israel Broadcast Authority’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HPg4r2uaQ4