Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Orthodox Jewish divorce spurred by technology
“It used to be that they had to go to the library, sneak out and physically get to a place where they can find more information — and now you have technology at your fingertips, even in the Orthodox community,” Santo said.
She said the internet allows restless, questioning young people in the ultra-Orthodox community to see “groups of people that have lived successful lives outside of the community.”
How the community deals with divorce
Herzfeld brought up the fact that ultra-Orthodox Jewish women and men marry very young, and often don’t know each other very well beforehand, which Santo says contributes to why a lot of the women she works with choose to divorce and even leave the community entirely.
Fraidy Reiss is one of those women — on a few levels, in fact: Reiss is divorced and left her ultra-Orthodox community, but is also the daughter of divorced Orthodox Jewish parents, a rare experience for her generation.
“I was the only one I knew whose parents were divorced,” Reiss said. “It was like I had two heads because my parents were divorced, I was considered really just a freak.”
Reiss said she thinks it’s getting easier simply because it’s becoming more common.
Reiss knew about that first-hand: she said that when she attempted to divorce her husband and get custody of her two daughters, one rabbi threatened to kidnap her children, and another threatened to testify in court that she was an unfit mother.
It wasn’t only rabbis, however: her friends wanted to testify against her as well.
She doesn’t hold it against them. Having grown up in the community, she understands what motivates them.
“There’s a belief in that community that if you’re not religious, you’re unstable and not a fit mother,” Reiss explained. “They really believe the kids are not going to have a good life.”
Traditional Jewish divorces
There are actually laws that exist in traditional Jewish law that were “constructed for divorces to be able to happen,” noted Santo.
“In the Jewish community, divorce has never been as taboo as in, say, the Catholic community,” she added.
However, Reiss explained that under Jewish law, a woman can only request a divorce. Her husband has to grant it with a document called a ‘get.’
“What happens is that men realize this power that they have over their wives,” Reiss said, adding that men will often withhold the get while demanding money, property, custody, or freedom from alimony in exchange.
While the woman is without a get, she is an ‘agunah,’ Reiss explained, which means “chained woman,” and can’t remarry. Women face the possibility of being alone for the rest of their lives, Reiss said.
“Even though I’m sure she would complain to her friends and say how terrible I was being, I think some small part of her would have said, ‘yes, you go, Fraidy,’” Reiss said.
By Danielle Tcholkian * Metro