Free Tamar Epstein for International Agunah Day

Chain of Jewish woman waiting for divorce, known as agunahToday is the Taanit Esther, a fast day to commemorate the threat of extermination faced by Jews as described in the Megillah. But did you know that it’s also “International Agunah Day“?

According to Jewish law, a divorce  becomes final when a man hands his wife a get, or a writ of divorce.  Sometimes men withhold the get to punish or extort their wives. While the occasional wife refuses to grant a get, Jewish law is stricter about women remarrying. A woman who wants to end her marriage, but whose husband can’t or won’t provide a get, is known as an agunah, meaning “anchored.”

The agunah issue has made news in the United States. Aharon Friedman is a congressional committee aide for the prominent House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Michigan Republican Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.

Aharon Friedman and his wife, Tamar Epstein, have been separated for four years and civilly divorced for two. Yet Friedman has not yet granted Epstein a get

The Jewish community has been pressuring Friedman’s boss to make a statement condemning all forms of emotional abuse including Get refusal. So far, Camp’s response has been to disregard the case as “gossip” and to disable posting to his Facebook page.

You can help by signing a petition asking Camp to make a statement and asking your friends and family to do the same. Your effort can help free Tamar and put this issue to rest for both families.

More on this story:

  1. Politico
  2. Fox News
  3. The Jewish Week

Happy Purim to All!

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  1. Thank you for the link, and thank you for giving us a simple Action – signing this particular petition. People often feel helpless – “but what can I, a lone individual, do to help?” You came up with a good response.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I had no idea that today was “International Agunah Day. Coincidentally, I recently posted on the get. It’s very difficult from a secular perspective to understand why this particular halacha – the requirement of a get, is so difficult to change given the comunity wide recognition for its sometimes devastating effects. Haven’t halachas ever been revised in the past . . i.e. are Jews still halachically allowed to own slaves? Please excuse my ignorance – I’m just trying to understand the issue . . .

    • Hi Cohen, Yes, halachot have been revised–although in the case of slaves it’s become more of an irrelevance. But the major problem is a lack of central leadership, even within Orthodoxy. If one rabbi is lenient and finds a way to get around the halacha, the children of the woman’s next marriage could have problems when they want to marry. In this way the most stringent keep things from changing, at least in the areas of marriage and conversion.

      • Thanks Hannah! That’s really interesting. Curious re: your thought on this: Just as the stringent make rules of exclusion based on leniency (e.g. non-Orthodox conversion), perhaps it would behoove the relatively less extreme to also set standards of exclusion based on extreme stringency. Is it not possible that some things go too far against human interests to be acceptable . . . . ?

      • Observer says

        There are some real limitations on what can be changed, halachikly speaking. It’s generally not an issue of one Rov or another being too strict. In a case like this, Rabbinic action or opinion is just not relevant here.

        EVERY Rav involved, across the spectrum agrees that he needs to give her a Get; the Beis Din ruled and he needs to get with the program. The problem is that in the US, there is simply NO halachik enforcement mechanism. Most of the(very few) secular “get” laws on the books can be sidestepped, and that even supposes that he is in a jurisdiction where these laws exist.

        In Israel, the Beis Din does have more tools at hand. Not fool proof, but much more useful.

  3. I just called rep. Camp’s office in Washington, D. C. (202) 225-3561 and left a message with his secretary about this issue.

  4. I have signed the petition and ask my family to do the same. It is certainly a good cause!

  5. The jewish community and the state can do a lot more to make it not very unpleasant to refuse to give a get. The problem is that crazy people are willing to suffer so others will suffer too.

    • Ms. Krieger says

      I have a friend whose husband refused to give her a get. She eventually convinced several prominent Orthodox rabbis from the surrounding area to pressure him into it — but it was very unpleasant and took a long time. I do not know exactly how they pressured him into it, she does not like talking about it. The man cared very much about his public reputation, so I assume they threatened to ‘tell people’ including his employer etc.

      Obviously Aharon Friedman doesn’t seem to care.

  6. “In an interview with the Jewish Review about the issue of agunot, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the spiritual leader of the Efrat in the West Bank, was asked why some of the halachic proposals that would enable a rabbinic court to dissolve marriage contract even without the husband’s consent haven’t been accepted by the Orthodox community. His answer was pointed: “I think to a certain extent there is a lack of judicial courage in our time.”
    Yet the Orthodox rabbis expect a non-Jewish congressman to be the one to exhibit courage, to fire or reprimand his employee for failing to adhere to the ruling of a religious court. The principle of the separation of church and state doesn’t apply here, I guess. And imagine the outcry that would result if Muslim imams, in an attempt to enforce the rulings of a sharia court, applied to their congressional representatives in such a public way for help.”

    Read more:

    • Sorry, this is foolishness.

      Firstly, Rabbi Riskin is simply wrong about the reasons why the proposals have been rejected. Most of them are clearly not doable in any way, from a Halachik perspective – something which he knows quite well. His proposal is not ridiculous, but when you dig into it, it becomes clear that what he wants to do simply does not work. (And, some of the analysis I have seen have come from Rabbis who HAVE exhibited the courage to trey to do something “different” about the problem.)

      The congressman does not need to “exhibit courage” to take action here; no on is asking him to do anything in the least bit illegal, nor anything that’s likely to hurt his ratings. And, no, separation of church and state does not apply here. If it did he would have said so.

      The comparison to Sharia is odious (I think intentionally so.) Had the community tried pressuring the congressman to push his employee into something that could be easily seen as abusive, that would be one thing, but this is a different thing.

      The Forward has an agenda. And, it’s not about the true benefit of women.

  7. Aharon Friedman says

    Originally the divorce laws were set up with the assumption that there would be a beit din which could levy civil and criminal penalties on recalcitrant husbands. In Israel the civil courts have taken on this function, and get refusers can be jailed, fined, or have other civil and criminal penalties applied. In the US and other countries such a thing is unfortunately not possible. It is clear that without the power of a beit din, the get process as it was originally envisioned is broken.