A couple of weeks ago, A Living Nadneyda posted the following comment on my post about Noachide weddings:
Several modern dilemmas of halacha have been waiting eons for creativity to help us save our own society (I am thinking especially of msuravot get). The same level of creativity called upon to unite the Noachides, could be harvested to disband a suffering union.
ALN’s words made me realize that there is a disconnect between the experience of many community rabbis and the perception of the broader Jewish community, regarding the issue of msuravei get (people whose spouses refuse to cooperate with divorce) and agunot (women whose husbands have disappeared).
To put it simply: Community rabbis see the many, many cases in which they successfully arrange for gittin or otherwise free spouses, despite very difficult circumstances. The public, though, only sees the headline cases, in which the rabbis fail.
Clearly, even one case of a woman – or man – who is unable to be divorced is too many. We can never be satisfied with our successes. However, I wish people knew how much sweat and creativity our community rabbis do currently put into enabling gittin, and how successful many of us are in doing so.
I am glad to say that I have not had more than 20-25 divorce cases in my career thusfar, but some of those have been doozies:
I have had cases in which a wife has adamantly refused to receive a Get, in order to hurt her husband or in order to get a better financial settlement. I never want to go the heter meah rabbonim route, so I have had to find ways to make the wife comfortable with receiving a Get.
I have had cases of husbands who have refused to give a Get. It’s usually a financial issue, but there are ways to deal with that – most often by holding the petur (document licensing re-marriage) in escrow until the financial package works out in the civil courts, or by using social pressure. I have also raised money to make the Get possible.
In one memorable case I called the stubborn husband’s 80-year-old mother in Israel at 2 AM her time, to let her know what her son was doing. Fifteen minutes later he was on the phone with me, agreeing to give the Get.
For the more recalcitrant cases, and for cases of agunah where the husband was incompetent to present a get, legitimate halachic authorities use other approaches, including finding reasons to disqualify the original marriage.
My experience is not unique; I know there are many rabbis in my shoes across the United States (I ma not as familiar with the international scene), doing the same things I am doing, every day.
There will always be people who will argue that rabbis possess, and should use, the power to change the rules altogether. Feel free to tell me that rabbis aren’t using the legislative authority assigned to us by the Torah; I disagree, but I know what you mean. But do realize that we are trying hard, within the parameters we understand to be the halachah, to set the agunot and mesuravot get free.
And please, please, use the halachic pre-nuptial agreement endorsed by the Rabbinical Council of America. It’s quick and easy, and if everyone would use it, it would save lives.