As the adage goes, the only people who truly understand a marriage are the two individuals within it; but it’s hard to ignore certain trends that arise in hyper conservative communities where men hold all the power and women are tasked solely with subservience. It’s even harder to ignore the facts: Women who seek divorce in Orthodox Jewish communities face serious repercussions beyond the run-of-the-mill trauma of an average marital unraveling. They are manipulated, ostracized from their own communities. They are left to dangle in that dangerous liminal place between wife and divorcee.
A ‘Get’, or a divorce, was originally meant to guarantee these women a certain amount of financial footing if and when a marriage ended. Matthue Roth explained it perfectly in a post on the subject recently, writing:
“In the old days, marrying a woman was basically akin to taking care of her and protecting her from, I don’t know, desert bandits and wild boars. The right to divorce used to be an obligation to divorce. Being married meant that you were protected—he gave you shelter; he gave you money. The Get was a way to guarantee that, even after a divorce, a wife still had some money to survive.”
But times have changes, he goes on:
“These days, most divorces are different. Some women who are seeking a divorce aren't looking to be provided for—they're looking for protection from their husbands. In the old days, Jewish communities really looked out for women seeking a Get. We were superheroes! We were Robin Hoods! If a guy was treating his wife wrong, squads of well-meaning rabbinical thugs were dispatched: a bunch of young, healthy yeshiva bochurs would show up, possibly with a baseball bat or something, and offer a little healthy encouragement. This tradition continued well into modern times, and was even referenced in an episode of The Sopranos.”
Anymore though, many community members are afraid to rise up, for fear of the repercussions these often powerful men could enact upon their own families. “Rather than helping the underdogs, and using Jewish law as a way to help them,” Matthue writes, “the Get has become a way to keep the powerless people powerless. There are rabbis who are helping out their friends, their supporters, the people who give them money. And the people with money are silencing anyone who questions them.”
Which bring us to our point. Tomorrow, in Crown Heights, Matthue Roth’s wife has organized a march on behalf of Orthodox wives shackled to marriages against their will. The peaceful demonstration is not about shaming: It’s about solving an institutional problem in the community boiling below the surface. It’s about restoring dignity, and respect for a tradition that has been reconfigured to take advantage of the powerless. And it deserves your attention.
Image c/o of Times of Israel