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Divorce vs. Culture and Religion—a Jewish Situation Gone Array

By Dana Horlick, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

Getting married seems to be relatively simple, at least when compared to the process of obtaining a divorce. In North Carolina, for example, a civil divorce is typically granted on the basis of a one-year separation of the parties, where at least one party had the intent to remain separate indefinitely. This means that getting a divorce can drag on for longer than the parties even lived as a married couple. Having an experienced divorce attorney can assist you in navigating this sometimes complex process.  Keep in mind this is a divorce by the State of North Carolina.  A religious recognition of your divorce can be a separate matter in several religions.  This blog addresses a tragic Jewish situation.

Obtaining a religious “divorce” can also be made more difficult when there are cultural and/or religious considerations to take into account. For instance, Jewish law requires that, in order for a divorce to be official, the husband must present the “get” to the wife. As you can probably tell, this may cause issues, especially for couples in which the wife is the one who wants the divorce and the husband does not. This means that the husband can effectively prevent the wife from getting a divorce that is official under Jewish rules.

A “get” is a written paper by an expert scribe acting as the husband’s agent. A “get” is tailored to the particular couple’s situation.  There are key words that must be included in the “get” and generally, a “get” is written in Aramaic.

In this respect, Jewish rules are different than the civil law in North Carolina. In North Carolina, as mentioned previously, divorce can be granted on the basis of a one-year separation of the parties, as long as one party had the intent to remain separate indefinitely. Thus, the divorce cannot be blocked by the other party under North Carolina law. If either party wants the divorce and the two parties have been separated for at least one year, there are adequate grounds for a divorce. Jewish rules appear to allow the husband to block the wife from getting an official Jewish divorce. If a husband chooses not to present his wife with a “get,” she cannot remarry under Jewish rules.

The results that can occur under the Jewish rules have led to those who have taken advantage of the predicament of Jewish women. Recently, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi (Rabbi Mendel Epstein) was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Rabbi Epstein wrote A Woman’s Guide to the Get Process. This rabbi led a team that “coerced” religious divorces from husbands that were reluctant to present the “get” to their wives. This team used violent means to torture the men into granting the Jewish divorce, or “get.” This rabbi, although declaring that his actions were intended to help women obtain official Jewish divorces, took money to do so – almost $60,000.

The idea of peacefully persuading men to present the “get” to their wives may have merit. However, this rabbi went beyond peaceful persuasion, even using cattle prods and surgical blades in his kidnappings and tortures. Obviously, no court is going to condone such actions, and the rabbi received his decade-long prison sentence. This serves as an example of the lengths people may go to, if there are unreasonable restrictions in place that unfairly empower one party over the other. It comes as a relief, then, that the intent of only one party to remain apart indefinitely, along with the one-year separation, is the only requirement under North Carolina law to obtain a divorce.