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Thread: Tamar Epstein Divorce Controversy

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    Tamar Epstein Divorce Controversy

    I seem to be posting a number of "hot" topic items lately. I find it interesting that we have been doing so well learning from each other about issues that can be very hard to discuss, about our points of view, WITHOUT being rude to each one another. I certainly hope that we can keep it that way.

    This one is from my area and I thought it was rather an interesting one. It started a few years ago but was in the news again this week.

    Here is an article from last year that very clearly explains the situation:

    Aharon Friedman, Capitol Hill Staffer Who Won't Grant Wife Jewish Divorce


    Aharon Friedman, Capitol Hill Staffer Who Won't Grant Wife Jewish Divorce

    It sounds like a dark fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm: A young and lovely woman marries a successful young man. A daughter arrives. But the story takes a turn. The couple quarrel. The young bride flees with the baby daughter to her parents. Then the young man casts a spell, condemning the woman to a life in chains; not with him, not with anyone. No more family.

    Take a little literary license with the spell and you've got the story of Aharon Friedman and Tamar Epstein, Orthodox Jews who divorced through Maryland civil courts -- in what sounds like an entirely uncivil manner -- but who have not yet been divorced by a Beit Din, a Jewish Rabbinical court. The reason is that Friedman, 34, a congressional committee aide working for Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, has refused to give Epstein a get, a Jewish writ of divorce.

    Without a get, by Jewish Orthodox law, the 27-year-old Epstein is forever bound to her husband -- she is an agunah, a woman in chains, a "grass widow" in the eyes of the community. She may never marry, she may never have other children. Click play to watch video of Tamar Epstein addressing a rally on Dec. 19 in Silver Spring, Md.:

    In our secular society, the idea of a religious court holding sway over our private lives seems like a fairy tale -- or something out of our deepest, most fantastical idea of Sharia law, something like stoning, say, for adultery. But for the hundreds of women in the United States and Israel, and elsewhere in the greater Jewish diaspora, whose husbands, out of spite or malice or both, refuse to issue them a get, are condemned to a life of social limbo.

    They are nothing; forever in suspension. In the Orthodox Jewish world, family and marital status is absolutely everything in adult life; without the freedom of a get, there is no future. It is as though Epstein, and the women like her, have been condemned to wander a desert for 120 years. On the website for the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (the plural of Agunah in Hebrew), some 35 women are listed as those "to pray for" their quick resolution. In Israel there is even an "Agunah Day" (around the holiday of Purim). There are women who wait decades for their stories to find resolution.

    And in Israel -- governed entirely by religious law for marriages -- even women who are less religious can be affected. Children born from other unions will be considered illegitimate by the state. "Very few women want to be in the position where their kids are considered mamzerim, or bastards. The stigma is really great and the stigma is so bad that it goes forever," Susan Weiss, director of the Center for Women's Justice in Israel, told NPR in April. "In other words, this person who's stigmatized -- his children are stigmatized, his grandchildren are stigmatized, everyone is stigmatized." Weiss launched a project in Israel to sue husbands for damages that deny their wives the get.
    The Epstein-Friedman case is complicated. Friedman was granted a joint-custody agreement in the civil courts, one that gives him three weekends a month, but weekends that start -- according to the New York Times -- at 6 p.m. In Philadelphia. On Friday nights. Which means, for a Sabbath-observant Jew, Friedman can't really see his daughter until Sunday. That's wrenching, that's awful; that, many believe, is unfair. The kid is so far away to begin with -- and Friedman, by all accounts, begged his wife to move back to the D.C. metro area so he can see the girl more. In the Jewish newspapers, the Epstein side says that the 6 p.m. weekend start time wasn't "etched in stone" and that they will give Friedman more access -- when he grants the get. Friedman, for his part, is holding his wife hostage until he gets the girl. And so it continues, in a vicious circle.

    Of course, it could be worse. There are men who have killed for less. For those of us outside the Orthodox world, who do not live our lives governed by those rules, it might be easier to shrug off. But for women like Epstein it is almost as though they are dead. Indeed, they are in a kind of purgatory, until resolution is found. And for women whose quest for a get goes on for decades -- they are like the walking wounded.

    It is for that reason that Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Washington dramatically told the New York Times, "I don't think the Messiah can come, as long as there is one agunah in the world."

    On his own blog, Rabbi Herzfeld wrote, "I have been a rabbi long enough to know that when a contested divorce is taking place there are at a minimum two different sides to the story. But when either party withholds a Get and uses that as leverage, then until that matter is settled there is only one side. Period. Otherwise we are effectively giving the spouse veto power over any court's decision. Just as we would not tolerate physical coercion, we cannot tolerate emotional coercion."

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    I assume she's very religious as well. Otherwise she could just ignore it, and later marry a man who is not concerned with such matters either, right? Especially since being "a bastard" by religious law is not such a big deal in a secular state like the US (is it?)

    The whole situation seems extremely weird to me. If they are both serious about their religion she has no sway whatsoever. She can either wait for him to change his mind, or for the whole get-tradition canceled. Which can take forever.

  3. #3
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    The actions of the husband aside, if she really IS religious in the Jewish Orthodox faith, then it would seem that she needs to accept that it appears to be Gods will that she tries to fix the marriage to the man she's already married to.

    Doesn't the Catholic church have very similar views on this and it is very hard to recieve religious approval to remarry?

    And who is the rally for, I mean whos views are they trying to change? God's?!
    As far as the State is concerned she can no doubt get a divorce regardless of what her husband thinks.

    She can't expect the Jewish Orthodox faith to change Jewish law, which is straight from the bible, just because it doesn't happen to suit her personal situation and preferences! What can the rabbis do? It's not like they can petition God, get a thousand signatures and have the law changed.

    And like Gromozeka says, if she has lost faith in orthodox Judaism, then there is no problem, she can just walk away and practice less strict judaism or some other religion, or be an atheist. There is such a thing as taking the consequences of your actions, and it seems like she is not willing to do that. If the situation was reversed and she needed the community's financial support, or something else that they could offer, then she probably would not complain! Instead she is annoyed because their view on divorce does not work in her favour.

    I don't know anything about the divorce laws in Israel but I would be surprised if they are very strict. I have been there a few times and in my opinion it is like any secular country, most people are not religious. There is just a minority of maybe 5-10 % who are orthodox Jews, and the country operates by Jewish calendar rather than Christian. But it is a secular country and most people are very laid back. I am sure plenty of them get divorced and expect to be able to remarry.

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    I would have had a lot of sympathy for her plight if she weren't using her daughter as leverage. That's just low, in my opinion.
    She seems to want to both have good standing with the Orthodox community (otherwise, why would she need a get?) and live by the rules less strict that those imposed by Orthodox Judaism. By you can't have your cake and eat it, too. Maybe she is going through a crisis of faith though... Anyway, her freedom is actually in her own hands.She doesn't need to harass her husband to give her her get, she can just be free.

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