Splitting the Sheets – Getting a divorce as an Orthodox Jew

Splitting the sheets is not so easy for Orthodox women.  In the United States, orthodox individuals are married and divorced not only by the civil courts but by their own religious court.   Beth Din (meaning House of Judgment), is the religious court that oversees Orthodox Jews, and unless you are Orthodox, you probably don’t even know this type of court exists, let alone is recognized by the United States Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court “…consistently has ruled that judges and other government officials may not interpret religious doctrine or rule on theological matters.   In such cases, civil courts must either defer to the decisions of religious bodies or adjudicate religious disputes based on neutral principles in secular law (Pew).

The Beth Din of America serves Jews in the United States.  Founded in 1960, the focus of Beth Din of America “…serves the Jewish community of North America as a forum for obtaining Jewish divorces, confirming personal status and adjudicating commercial disputes stemming from divorce, business and community issues” (Beth Din).   Jewish law is (Halakha) taken from the Torah or the Hebrew Bible.  Beth Din serves affiliated and unaffiliated Jews, including the entire spectrum of the Orthodox Jewish community.  Cases are decided under Jewish law, through the prism of contemporary commercial practice and secular law.

There are two times an Orthodox Jew would participate in a Beth Din – marriage and divorce.  The Beth Din doesn’t “…supersede routine civil law, rather it embellishes these events with certain required rituals, none of which offend deep-rooted social morality nor contradict existing civil law” (Spero).   Couples divorce in civil court but then are required to obtain a Get from the Beth Din.  The Get is a  divorce document according to an ancient Hebrew text. Marriage is similarly preceded by written documents and blessings. These additions do not abrogate any civil laws, rather fall under the rubric of rituals that adorn and enrich each particular group within humanity.

Orthodox Jews view Jewish law (halakhah) as governing nearly every aspect of daily life.  However, Orthodox women wanting their civil divorce to be recognized and obtain a Get are now finding that the Halakhah is biased against them.  By Jewish law, only men have the power to end a religious marriage.  Many of these men do not want to share their wealth with their wives or are bitter refusing to cooperate with the Ex or even the Beth Din.  While some women swear they would never marry again, reality is if they were, a new marriage would be considered adultery by the Orthodox Jewish community and “…future children would be labeled mamzerim — bastards — and therefore not able to marry other Orthodox Jews (Furman).  According to Rabbi Jeremy Stern, the executive director of Organization for the Resolution of Aguno (women in this situation) this is a form of domestic abuse.  “A lot of victims of abuse give up many important rights in order to get a religious divorce…many women who need an order of protection won’t do it. They are terrified” (Furman). 

           One possible preventive solution to this problem is the Jewish prenup. More couples are signing contracts agreeing to arbitrate their marital disputes in a rabbinical court. In the event of a split, the husband must pay $150 a day for every day he refuses to give a get.

Meanwhile women sit in limbo waiting for the Beth Din to support them further.


Analysis: Applying God’s Law: Religious Courts and Mediation in the U.S.  The Pew Forum    

          on Religion and Public Life.  8 Apr 201.  Web.  10 May 2013.

 Beth Din of America.  2010. Web. 10 May 2013.   

Furman, Phyllis.  “Get lost! Women struggle to get Jewish divorce from their Orthodox 

         husbands: Without a get, a new marriage would be considered adultery in Orthodox

         Jewish community”.  New York Dailey News.  27 May 2012.  Web.  10 May 2013. 

 Spero, Rabbi Aryeh.  “No Comparison: Shariah and Jewish Religious Courts”.  American

        Thinker.  26 Dec 2010.  Web  10 May 2013. 

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