Sunday, September 26, 2010
Last Jew Of Afghanistan Refuses To Give Wife Religious Divorce
For the past 13 years all sorts of figures in the Jewish world have been trying to convince Zevulun Siman Tov from Afghanistan, who refuses to divorce his wife, to give her a get. Rivkah Lubitch thinks that the story reflects the powerlessness of the wife and the rabbinic court against a man who married a woman and refuses to divorce her. And when will we understand that this situation cannot be allowed to continue?
Recently we read in the newspapers about Zevulun Siman Tov, the last Jew in Afghanistan, who refuses to give his wife a get. From the article it transpires that his wife has been sending agents to Afghanistan for 13 years with the assistance of official and non-official figures throughout the Jewish world, but he sticks to his guns – refusing to give her a get. The rabbinic court is willing to fly Rabbi Gordon, who has been dealing with the case for years, to the end of the world, even dressed up as a sheik. The State is willing to pay Siman Tov so that he’ll give his wife a get, and even the Chief Rabbinate is contributing its part in order to help the trapped woman. But they’re all powerless in the face of the husband’s stubbornness.
The story is unbelievable. The part that’s unbelievable in this story isn’t the story itself, but how we read it and what are the conclusions to be drawn from it. Most of us read it as an “extreme story” that causes us in the best case to feel a tug on our heart and maybe even to shed a tear. Most of us regard it as a “curiosity” that could only happen in some remote and backward country to some miserable and unfortunate woman. Most of us will click our tongues and comment on the woman’s bad luck.
But where is the small child who will stand up and shout “the Emperor has no clothes”? This story is, in essence, the story of women who marry in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel. It’s not an extreme case – it’s an average, it-could-happen-to-you, type of case. The misfortune of this woman who stands helpless before a cruel and stubborn husband reflects on the vulnerability of all women, the rabbinic courts and the entire community before any man who marries a woman in accordance with Jewish law and doesn’t agree to divorce her. When will we understand that we can’t allow this situation to continue?
The solution won’t come from rabbis dressed up as sheiks or from American soldiers in Afghanistan who put pressure on stubborn recalcitrant husbands. The solution must be much more general, broader and encompassing. The solution must lie at the systemic level of an all-encompassing halacha and not at the level of the individual case solved through the use of force. The solution to the problems of women who are agunot will only be reached when rabbis and halachic decisors apply what was established by the Gemara in several places, according to which “every man who marries does so with the consent of the sages and the sages have annulled the marriage (when it went against their opinion).
Those who think that the rabbinic court in our times is not daring enough to annul a marriage and those who think that the rabbinic leadership isn’t daring enough in order to get together and determine halachic rules are invited to promote the solution of the of the Center for Woman’s Justice and to marry in “conditional marriages.” In such cases the existence of the marriage is contingent on the couple not living separately for a specified period of time and that a rabbinic court with three members has not ruled that the marriage must be annulled.
Only pressure on the rabbinic establishment to adopt such halachic solutions will bring about some change with regard to the difficult situation of women who marry according to Jewish law.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic court pleader who works at The Center for Women’s Justice, tel. 02-5664390.