Living with a Collar Around my Neck

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Living with a Collar Around my Neck

As a young ultra-Orthodox woman of marriageable age, nothing really prepared me for what ensued.

Oped by Orel Silam |  August 16, 2019

Orel Levi at the Finish Line
Orel crosses the finish line of Yad La’isha’s Women Moving Mountains desert hike in February 2018 (photo credit: Irit Amit)

This year, Tu Be’av – the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av – marks for me the freedom to love: to love life, to love myself and the ability to be free of the chains of my ex-husband, a man who refused to give me my get (Jewish divorce document) and turned me into a woman in captivity, a woman devoid of any life, a woman with a collar around her neck.

As a young ultra-Orthodox woman of marriageable age, nothing really prepared me for what ensued. The most important thing for me at the time was to find a husband with whom I would be able to build a Torah-observant home. But what happens when things don’t work out the way you planned? When there is no Torah? No derech eretz (common decency)? No human dignity? When you suddenly discover the person you married is not even ultra-Orthodox? For this I wasn’t prepared at all.

Six years in a miserable marriage, and another two-and-a-half years of living apart, yet bound to a recalcitrant husband who refused to grant a get – this period of my life was a living nightmare. It is true that I am only 26 years old, but all I went through made me feel old. The feeling that I was stuck at a dead end without any hope for change, with 40 court hearings behind me, raising kids on my own, times I could hardly eat, days I was dysfunctional at work, running from one hearing to the next, and every such court hearing was another draining step in the never-ending process that was my life – when all I really wanted was just to be free.

The suffering I underwent, and the insensitivity and indifference I encountered on the part of the powers that be, meant that my husband was free to continue his life. He could do as he wished or could go out with other women – while my own life was curtailed. Yes, I have chosen to lead an ultra-Orthodox life, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to toy with me. I have chosen to live a life of Torah, so why couldn’t the Rabbinical Court not coerce him into abiding by that same Torah by giving me my get and thus setting me free?

About three weeks ago, I received my get.

Following pressure exerted by my Rabbinical Court advocate, the Rabbinical Court finally threatened my (now) ex-husband that if he did not grant me a get, an immediate court order would be issued for his arrest. A few short hours after the court had taken its decision, he decided to grant me the divorce. I literally pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t imagining it all. It was a moment one cannot put into words, a moment I had been dreaming of for so long. When I was finally given the long-awaited get, I was filled with immense joy. It felt like the collar I had worn was removed. I was no longer married to that man. I was free.

During one of the court hearings, the secretary of the Rabbinical Court said to me: “Don’t get too upset by the fact that your hearing has been postponed. There is a huge overload of cases, and another thousand women in your situation, and we have to try all the cases.” But I was not willing to give up and did not stop fighting for a minute. I want to call out to all the women out there: put up a fight. Don’t stop for a minute. There is light at the end of the tunnel. And to the Rabbinical Courts I wish to say: take strong measures against recalcitrant husbands from the very start, and don’t let such men torture us and kill us from within. We, too, deserve to be free. We, too, deserve to love again. Happy Tu Be’av!

The writer received her get after being represented by a Rabbinical Court advocate at Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad L’aisha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for Agunot.

Read the article on the Jerusalem Post website

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