Tablet Magazine is giving press to one of the Jewish world’s most truly feminist causes, the right of a woman to obtain a divorce decree, known in the Rabbinic world as a get. Rivky Stein has spent the past 2 years attempting to obtain a get from her husband Yoel Weiss who simply refuses to appear in court (a Rabbinic beit din) in order for the decree to be issued. Sick, tired, and more than ready to move on with her life, Rivky took to social media to publicly shame her husband into relenting.
A surge of news reports followed, adding to an ongoing saga that had been chronicled by publications ranging from The Daily Mail to Haaretz. A call to action was posted on a website devoted to Stein’s cause. Donations poured in to a crowd-funding website that has raised over $22,000 so far.
The coordinated use of publicists, Facebook, Twitter, donation sites, and rallies is becoming common for women like Rivky Stein who seek religious divorces from their husbands. Many Jews give little thought to the get, but in traditional Judaism only men can grant a divorce. Without one, a woman cannot date or remarry without carrying and passing onto her children what is widely considered in the Orthodox world to be a tremendous stigma. So, with few options in Jewish law, more agunot—Hebrew for “chained wives”—are embracing contemporary and high-tech tools to publicly shame men.
Rivky is far from the first woman to take her divorce demand to the court of public opinion. Statistics indicate that there are 462 agunot in North America, but due to the insular nature of the Orthodox Jewish community those numbers are far from reliable.
Rivky Stein’s case is a he-said, she-said story. She claims mental, physical and sexual abuse. He says she’s “a sham”. Still, the history of Orthodox men abusing their wives and refusing to grant divorces doesn’t bode in his favor. Get detectives rake in the bucks in Israel “…where all Jewish marriages and divorces must be made in rabbinic courts,” and in America, of course, we have the “Prodfather”:
While shame and exclusion have worked for centuries, another tactic has raised a great deal of attention: violence. A recent article in GQ details allegations against Rabbi Mendel Epstein, who is referred to as the “Prodfather” for his use of electric cattle prods to coerce reluctant husbands. At 69 years old, Epstein faces 25 years to life in federal prison after an elaborate FBI sting operation led to his arrest and indictment on multiple counts of kidnapping.
The power of social media can only go so far, and the women who do take their case to social media are internet-shamed in turn, orphaned by their own religious communities.
Although agunot may be better-equipped than ever, with the ability to instantaneously reach out to thousands of followers through social media, or bankroll an attorney through crowd-funding, the power of divorce is ultimately given to the husband, according to Jewish law. If Weiss is bent on staying married, there is little Stein can do.
…As for Stein, much of her effort at this point goes into prayer. “I feel like I did everything,” she said. “I don’t know what to do anymore, honestly.”
Streams of Judaism that require religious approval for a divorce have largely adopted the Lieberman clause in the ketubah (wedding contract) that give the wife the option to petition a reluctant husband through a secular court. Despite being promoted by some Orthodox rabbis, most Orthodox groups refuse to include the clause in wedding contracts.