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Thought for the Week: Divorce: Jewish Justice Unchained


Throughout history, divorce has always been imbued with patriarchalism. In ancient Greece, there were two types: (sending forth) and (abandonment). No prizes for guessing the gender differential!

In the Jewish – as Islamic – tradition, a religious divorce was solely a male option. The husband issued a formal divorce document – a Get – to the wife.

Move on to a secular environment with a secular court of law. Relatively recent developments now allow an English court, in dealing with a Jewish divorce, to make it a term of the Order terminating the marriage that the husband shall issue a Get, which is then enforceable under the contempt of court system.

Before then, there was no remedy for a divorced Jewish woman wishing to remarry after a divorce. They were known as Agunot – women in chains. And the Orthodox (so exclusively male) Jewish religious authorities were unsympathetic to the point of deafness.

This put a Jewish religious court – a Beth Din (literally a “House of Justice”) in a quandary. Such a case was heard years ago by the Manchester Beth Din. Following an acrimonious divorce, the ex-wife wished to remarry in a synagogue. The ex-husband remained obdurate. The ex-wife summoned him to a Beth Din hearing. He repeated his refusal, but would not give a rational explanation for his conduct.

“Very well,” said the judges, “we will retire to consider this.” And they hit upon an imaginative solution.

Marching back into Court, they remained standing, and signalled to the defendant that he should do likewise. He nervously complied.

“As you know,” said the presiding judge, “there are two ways in which your ex-wife may become free to remarry under Jewish law, as she morally should be. The first is that you cease your obduracy and grant her a Get. The second is that the Almighty intervenes. We have reached a decision. Unless you do the first, we shall retire and pray for the second.”

The man turned green, and surrendered on the spot.

Philip Goldenberg, member of the Jewish faith

Date: Monday 26th September 2022


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