Get refusal is where one partner - usually the husband - refuses to release the other, to allow them to re-marry.

Following the civil divorce of a Jewish couple, the husband is required to give his wife a Get (the religious document of divorce) and the wife is required to receive it. This is usually effected through the Bet Din (the local religious court), as giving and receiving the Get frees them both to re-marry in a synagogue.  The process can sometimes be very distressing particularly for the woman, and the courts are increasingly trying to ensure it is as supportive as possible.

When a recalcitrant man refuses to give his ex-wife a Get, she is 'chained' to him even though they are divorced in the civil court. In Jewish terminology she is called an Agunah, 'chained' woman. In practice, this means that she may not re-marry in an orthodox Jewish wedding, although her ex-husband could do so under Jewish law. Some women are never released from this state.

Some ex-husbands attempt to extort money or make other demands from their ex-wife's family in exchange for a Get.

Get refusal is abusive in and of itself, but it is also used by domestic abuse perpetrators as a further way of abusing their former partner. At JWA we support our clients around Get Refusal.

The problem of the Agunah has long exercised women, who have campaigned for change particularly in the last 30 years. In recent years, the wider Jewish community and the Jewish courts have begun to take action to avoid women being Agunot (see below for the current positions of the Jewish courts of the main synagogue bodies in the UK). Many rabbis and communities are following the Jewish practice of not allowing a recalcitrant husband to be given a religious role in a synagogue service, and other methods of putting pressure on him to give her a Get

Internationally, there have recently been interesting moves. Yad L'Isha working in Israel, and the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot working in North America, have been supporting and campaigning for many years.


Positions of the Jewish Courts (Bet Din) of the major synagogue movements on Get Refusal

"The London Beth Din [of the United Synagogue] strives to provide support for women in this tragic situation [of Get Refusal in an abusive marriage], whether for a short period or an indefinite period.  We work, often hand in hand with Jewish Women’s Aid, to ensure that women are able to manage this difficult time in their lives." Joanne Greenaway, London Bet Din, November 2017 (whole article referenced below). Further, the Beth Din now advocates that new couples sign a Pre-Nuptial Agreement (PNA) which commits them to Jewish divorce in the unhappy event of the marriage failing.

"The Sephardi Beth Din takes Get refusal very seriously and will do everything within its ability to ensure that where applicable a man gives a Get and a woman receives her Get. If following numerous attempts a party is unwilling to cooperate with the Beth Din, the individual concerned may be restricted from taking part in communal events and in extreme cases may not be allowed to be buried within our cemeteries." Rabbi Kada, the Sephardi Beth Din, April 2019

"The European Masorti Bet Din is committed to enabling those who are divorced in civil law to be able to remarry under Jewish law. We work together with divorcing couples to make sure that it will be possible to issue a Get. In those instances where one of the parties refuses to cooperate, we will, depending on circumstances, find halachically acceptable ways to enable their partner to be free to remarry." Rabbi Chaim Weiner, the European Masorti Bet Din, April 2019

Both the Reform Bet Din and the Liberal Bet Din will do everything they can, in the case of Get refusal, even if necessary to deliver the Get on behalf of the a recalcitrant husband. This would enable her to remarry in a non-orthodox synagogue.

OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES:

Dr Robert Gordis "Agunot: A Different Kind of Hostage" https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/agunot-a-different-kind-of-hostage/

Dr Blu Greenberg and others on the International Bet Din: The Agunah Crisis from 2017 JOFA Conference https://youtu.be/o0wX1UcAa4U

Article from IDEVAW2018 Times of Israel https://www.getora.org/ (Get Refusal Is Also Violence)

Joanne Greenaway 2017 "Get Refusal - Abuse in our Community"