On Saturday, March 22, the New York Times ran an article by Jennifer Median entitled “Unwilling to Allow His Wife a Divorce, He Marries Another”. The article tells of an Orthodox Jewish woman who appears to be stuck in an untenable situation. Over seven years ago she obtained a civil divorce from her (also Orthodox Jewish) husband, but he continues to deny her a “get”, which is a document given by a husband to his soon-to-be ex-wife, as required by Orthodox Jewish law to end a marriage. The lack of a get means that the woman cannot remarry under Orthodox Jewish law, although she is free to do so under New York State law, as she has completed a civil divorce. Normally, this would mean that the husband could not remarry under Orthodox Jewish law either, but evidently he has taken advantage of a “loophole” in the religious law and has indeed remarried. Remember, this has nothing to do with secular civil law, which considers the couple to be divorced and free to remarry as they choose.
According to the Times article, the woman has received significant support in the Orthodox community, where her supporters have tried to shame and ostracize the husband into giving the get, so far without success. (The husband seems to have his own supporters in the community as well). But there is another option open to this woman and her supporters that they seem to have not considered: Stop this nonsense and stop it now! They can choose to rid themselves of the entire “get” process. She does not have to be part of this patriarchal system, nor do her supporters. She and they can simply opt out: “we don’t do this anymore”. And if her supporters don’t follow her, she can go on her own. Her supporters are trying to help her through the “system”, but, 1. Going through the system (i.e. recognizing the significance of the get, and using community pressure to persuade the husband to acquiesce) has not helped this woman, at least so far, and 2. Even if eventually the husband does give the get, the system itself, which has tormented this woman for seven years, will still be in place, and will therefore torment other women for years to come who find themselves in the same predicament.
Now, it is not my intention to suggest that leaving this “system” will be easy for this woman. When a person has a feeling of “community”, especially one in which they grew up, it is often a wrenching decision to leave. One feels somewhat lost in these circumstances, especially at first. But there are other communities of which she can become a part that will welcome her and support her right not only to remarry, but to live her life as she sees fit, and the lack of a “get” be damned. There are secular communities built around common interests. There are also religious communities, including Jewish religious communities, that do not adhere to the ancient patrimony and misogyny that is inherent in the entire “get” system, and, in fact, in much of traditional Orthodox Judaism. While it would not be easy, the fact remains that this woman and all those who support her do have a solution to this dilemma, no matter what the ex-husband does or doesn’t do. Just opt out. Refuse to adhere to this antiquated mindset anymore, both as individuals and as a community. The ex-husband holds power over this woman only because she and her supporters allow him to. Don’t wait for him to do the right thing; just do it yourself, and all else will take care of itself.