SHEDDING LIGHT on the DARKNESS of ABUSE
By Deanna Levine
I was recently honoured and privileged to be invited to speak at Tahel’s Second International Conference entitled “Shedding Light on the Darkness of Abuse” held in the Ramada Hotel, Jerusalem. The conference was spread over 3 days and had over 550 participants who came from various countries – quite a feat in the current situation. Tahel, the crisis centre for religious women and children, has been a leader in supporting and advocating for victims of the difficult and painful issues of domestic violence and abuse, as well as providing training, workshops and prevention programmes in communities in Israel and around the world.
So where did I fit in? As a solicitor, one of my areas of specialisation is to advise spouses and occasionally their solicitors where there is difficulty in obtaining a Get. When a husband refuses to give a Get (Jewish divorce) or a wife refuses to accept it, the refusing spouse is exercising ongoing power and control over the personal life of his or her spouse, as it means that he or she cannot remarry under Orthodox auspices if there is no Get.
Under Jewish law, husband and wife remain married if there is no Get and if the wife has any children by another Jewish man while she is still Jewishly married, those children will be mamzerim, a status which has disastrous results. The consequences for those children are as severe as they are tragic: they will not be permitted to marry in an Orthodox wedding ceremony. The only way to avoid such a status from arising is for the wife to refrain from having any children by another Jewish man while she has no Get – but sadly this is a situation which can continue for many years. The problem of mamzerim does not, however, arise if there is no Get if the husband has children by a Jewish woman.
In the language of domestic violence or domestic abuse, this type of control is called psychological or emotional abuse – which is how refusal of the Get came to be included in this conference about abuse.
I spoke at a panel session entitled “Get Laws around the World” with other lawyers from America, Canada and Australia. Each of us explained the civil laws which can be used in our respective countries in order to assist victimised spouses. A keen question and answer session followed. When the civil law is used, these problems are mostly avoided. Most Jewish divorces mercifully go through without having to make use of them, but they can be extremely useful if needed.
Interestingly, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has spoken out in support of the campaign of Jewish Women’s Aid to fight domestic abuse in the Jewish community. This was at the recent event in Brent Cross that was held to mark the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – the title of the event says it all.
Jewish Women’s Aid includes psychological and emotional abuse within the definition of domestic abuse. This links in with what I have said above about refusing the Get being a form of psychological or emotional abuse, given the level of control exercised by the refusing spouse over the other spouse.
In an interesting development, the London Beth Din (with the support of the Sephardi Beth Din) recently placed an advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle, in which they named and shamed a husband who had been refusing to give his wife a Get for 15 long years. This tactic is used in America and it is a new and bold step for the UK to take. It will hopefully help the Agunah (the Hebrew word for the wife whose husband refuses to give the Get). Joanne Greenaway, a lawyer and Get caseworker at the London Beth Din, was involved with this case and she too refers in the JC to the psychological damage which can be caused by being refused a Get. In my view, this aspect cannot be overestimated, but it is rarely acknowledged, so it was good to see Joanne mention it with her London Beth Din hat fixed firmly on her head. Since this first foray into the newspapers, 2 other adverts have been published. Let us hope that, by using this tactic, the recalcitrant husbands will respond by freeing their wives instead of forcing them to live under their control.
With the London Beth Din’s assistance, those names appear to be coming out of the woodwork and it is a positive step forward. Publicising the names and urging people not to have contact with those who refuse a Get and may also have the effect of persuading other husbands not to refuse to give the Get or (in the case of the wife) not to refuse to accept it.
In conclusion, here are some organisations which can assist if problems about the Get are suspected or arise: the local Beth Din – they are in London, Manchester and Leeds; and the Agunot Campaign. Solicitors can obviously advise too, but it is important before instructing them to ensure that they know about the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002, which can be used after decree nisi if one spouse is not co-operating with obtaining the Get. In the vast majority of cases, this delays the decree absolute until the Get has been obtained. The solicitors should also be asked if they know about the Get clauses and undertakings which can be included in a consent order at the time of the final financial order (or they may be used at an earlier stage). When the Act or undertakings are used, it is much easier to obtain the Get. Checking with solicitors that they are aware of these matters also avoids the problem of solicitors telling the client that it’s for the client to sort out the Jewish divorce, not a solicitor. Full details of the organisations, the Act and the Get clauses and undertakings, as well as much, much more, are given in the highly acclaimed e-book, entitled “Getting your Get” at www.gettingyourget.co.uk.
Deanna Levine ©
Consultant Solicitor, Barnett Alexander Conway Ingram LLP
Direct line: 020 8492 0220
Further information may be obtained from the widely acclaimed e-book, “Getting your Get” at http://www.gettingyourget.co.uk , where there is also a link to a short 3 part video interview, in which Deanna Levine is interviewed by a TV correspondent.