After 16 years, Jewish woman ‘trapped’ in marriage freed in precedent-setting international court battle

The husband’s recalcitrance was directed by his father, a wealthy and influential figure in the ultra-Orthodox community.

By Sharon Givati, Yad La’isha

A 16-year struggle to obtain a get (Jewish writ of divorce) reached its end Wednesday in a precedent-setting case that began in the rabbinical courts of Tel Aviv and ended in the Beit Din (court of Jewish law) in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The case had gained considerable media and public attention over the years due to the influential nature of the get-refuser’s father and the lengths the rabbinical court was willing to go in order to achieve this result.

The story began 16 years ago, when having been married for several years, D traveled to Israel with their two young children to visit her parents. Shortly after her arrival, D suffered a serious stroke, leaving her in the hospital where she was diagnosed with neurological damage that would affect her mobility and overall function. Upon hearing the diagnosis, her husband made the decision to abandon the family but refused to grant her a Jewish legal divorce.

For well over a decade, D was left to fend for herself and her children, all while struggling with her own health and rehabilitation. Her requests for a get were repeatedly denied.

In 2012, D turned to Yad La’isha, the Legal Aid Center for agunot – literally, women in chains – referring to those whose husbands refuse to give them a divorce, which would allow them to remarry. Yad La’isha (Hebrew for “a helping hand for the woman”) is run by Ohr Torah Stone, a modern-Orthodox Jewish movement in Israel. Upon review, D’s advocate Devorah Brisk recognized that the husband’s recalcitrance was actually being directed by his father, a wealthy and influential figure in the ultra-Orthodox community.

In a precedent-setting rabbinical court ruling in 2016 at the suggestion of Adv. Brisk, the father was denied an exit permit when he tried to return to New York following a trip to Israel. The court ruled that the father was indeed guilty of influencing his son in withholding the get and would be denied exit until the divorce was given. He has remained in the country since, representing the first time in Israel that someone other than a spouse could be held accountable for get abuse.

In the face of continued refusal by the family to grant D her freedom, over the past year the Rabbinical Court decided to intensify pressure with fines of 5000 NIS for every day that the son refused to acquiesce . An additional fine of $120,000 was placed on the husband in New York in a local civil court case to pay for the back-owed child support.

As a result of these continued combined measures, the man finally agreed to grant D her freedom on condition that she come to New York with her children and receive the get in the Beit Din there. Understanding the unique sensitivity surrounding the personal safety of the involved parties as well as D’s still-fragile health, the Ohr Torah Stone network provided 24-hour security and full time medical support along with the accompaniment of her advocate.

Upon viewing the signature and with the document in hand, D said, “Thank you God for allowing me to reach this moment and with all my heart I am now able to say the blessing as a freed prisoner.

“In many ways, I still can’t believe that I have made it to this point and it will take some time to completely absorb what I’ve been through over the past 16 years.  I would never have been able to make it through these challenges without the support of Yad La’isha and Adv. Dvora Brisk who has literally dedicated so much of her life to my case.

“My message to other women who are forced to deal with these situations is that you should never, ever give up because you too can achieve this successful result.

“It’s incredibly emotional,” said Pnina Omer, director of Yad La’isha. “For years we dreamed of getting to this moment…But alongside the joy we feel today, we can’t forget the pain of 16 lost years. The voyage that Jewish women are sometimes forced to take to freedom is all too often more than an individual can handle. We can therefore only hope for halakhic (Jewish legal) solutions that will present a lasting answer for agunot. But until, then we pledge for be here to fight for their freedom.”

This case… also sends a message to all recalcitrant husbands everywhere that we are prepared and willing to go to all lengths and travel all distances to ensure that agunot are afforded the freedom they so deserve. This is a crucial issue in Judaism which demands to be addressed and resolved in a comprehensive and lasting manner so the pain of women like D need not be felt again,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president of Ohr Torah Stone.