A Jewish woman speaking with her Rabbi

Esther (left) speaking with her Rabbi.

Esther has spent the past 29 years attempting – unsuccessfully – to divorce her husband. Not a civil divorce, mind you. That part was easy. Civil proceedings moved quickly through the courts after her husband tried to murder her back in 1988.

Esther is an Orthodox Jew, meaning she also needed to get a religious divorce. But that never came. She has waited nearly 30 years for the church to formally set her free from her murderous husband.

The request was repeatedly denied due to the strict rules of Orthodox Judaism. In the eyes of the church, Esther continued to be bound to her would-be murderer. The laws of religious matrimony, they explained, could not be broken even under the grave circumstances – giving a whole new meaning to the saying “the old ball and chain.”

But earlier this week her 29-year long wish finally came true: the marriage was officially dissolved.

Why the Wait?

Believers of Orthodox Judaism are bound by strict rules. According to this particular religious doctrine, a woman cannot divorce unless her husband consents to it. Thus, married women whose husbands refuse a “get,” the common term for a religious divorce, are considered “agunot,” or chained women.

Esther was just that: a chained woman. Unable to remarry and put the traumatic past behind her, she was trapped by an unfair system.

An Orthodox Jewish family walking on the street

An Orthodox Jewish family out for a stroll. Jewish women cannot get a religious divorce unless the husband agrees to it.

Winds of Change, Gently Blowing

Esther’s victory in this divorce case signifies a shift in the traditionally patriarchal attitudes and views of Orthodox Judaism, especially in regards to abuse toward women.

In fact, rabbinical courts all over the world have been cracking down on such cases, imposing fines on uncooperative husbands. In Israel, where religious tribunals function as a branch of the judiciary system, some men have even received prison sentences. Elsewhere, courts have forbidden communication with recalcitrant husbands, effectively ostracizing them from the community for their transgressions.

Esther’s ex-husband, who spent only 9 years in jail for his murder attempt, finally agreed to grant her a religious divorce because fines against him were stacking up.

The Only Way OutA wife contemplating murder

In another shocking case that emerged recently, an Orthodox woman took a more direct approach. Frustrated that her husband refused to agree to a divorce, she tried to have him killed in order to end the marriage.

According to reports, she convinced a friend to do the deed. As it happened, the FBI was tracking the case and intervened before anyone got hurt.

However, it certainly illustrates the lengths that people will go to escape the strict confines of religious marriage.

Reflecting on a Long History

Judaism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, its origins traced through various historic artifacts and texts as far back as 3500 years ago.

The tenets and beliefs that shape the core practices and dogma of current day Judaism predate most modern day societies. So perhaps it’s no surprise that its attitudes and beliefs toward gender equality do not reflect modern views.

But can religious doctrine evolve to fit modern times? Things seem to be moving slowly in that direction. However, until a dramatic change occurs, “chained women” will continue to suffer.

 

13 comments

  1. Cind says:

    Similar thing happen to my father n law his wife wanted a divorce she found somebody else he gave her the divorce. He was a penacostal minister when he remarried the woman my husband mother he was striped of that because he was to remain married to the first wife.

  2. Tom says:

    Religion should have nothing to do with whether 2 people want to be together

  3. Cindy says:

    I agree. And the bible talk about a divorce be granted only of Harding of hearts. This man apparently was abusive. A divorce should have been granted and placing her somewhere safe.

  4. Joseph says:

    “Till death do us part” is only applicable to willing couples but not by forcing the vows recited in the church. The issue of staying as husband and wife should be mutual agreement between the couples because it is all about their life time life. I support a chain less wife.

  5. Joseph E Knopick says:

    Just puts her in a terrible place, She’d have to give up her faith that she loves, which is evident by her commitment to the rules, or wait till he grants it or dies. Shame that under such severity the Law was more important than the grace of peace for her.

  6. Joanne Martin says:

    Most religious text can barely be translated so easily due to the time in which it was first written. Language has changed and even the meanings of certain words have changed throughout the years and therefore to say that most are outdated would be an understatement.

    I think far more people would find their way back to their roots and to religion itself if the changing of life and the changing of time saw adaptations to these religious teachings. Most religious scriptures are written in such a way that give men the higher authority as it pertains to their families and especially their wives. These were written at a time when woman’s rights were never even considered because without an education, such as anything offered to a man, then a woman would leave the home of her father to the home of her husband and needed the husband to take such control because she was never taught or expected to know any differently.

    This is no longer the case, so to keep these kind of practices (the husband has to agree to divorce under any circumstance) is highly outdated and in a sense unlawful imprisonment of sorts.

    At any time, while the laws of each religion where put to paper, did people ever look for far into the future and see one that would be so vastly different from what they knew, They couldn’t have. If pastors, priest and ministers etc. were taught to take these doctrine and instead of read then word for word and page by page to their patrons, yet spread the same word and teachings but considering the evolvement of the world, the laws that keep us all safe and the knowledge that whatever religious leader you are spreading the word of did not foresee the changes of the world and still taught these scriptures in such a way that they should be set in stone even under todays life. They too would see the need for revisions and do so accordingly. It does not mean you have to change what you believe in or that the nature and main ideals of any religion will be defaced….it just means in order for any religion to continue on and keep spirituality as a focus in peoples lives, they are going to have to understand and remove the little things that are no longer relevant in this day and age.

  7. Fred Kashenick says:

    She should have popped a cap in him and claimed self defense.
    We’re not her for a long time, we’re here for a good time.

  8. gjarvi says:

    Interesting article, however, I am disturbed by the image of the crazed woman holding a knife ready to stab, as an image chosen to accompany this article. You do not show us a picture of the evil man who attempted to kill his wife, but rather the image of “any woman” who is has nothing to do with this article, but who depicts a revengeful woman. The wife waited 29 years and did not resort to revenge. No image of such a patient soul. Please consider the imagery you use.
    Thank you.

    1. Cindy says:

      I wondered about that image myself!

  9. RUTH says:

    First of all, Jews do not go to Church, go to Synagogues, so the “church” expression in the article denotes lack of knowledge. Second, The Jewish religion today has many streams, Orthodoxy, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist to mention some, and the article fails to asses this reality. Only some streams from the Orthodoxy has not change the rules, the rest of the streams have adjusted in different levels to modern life. All in all, if someone is going to write an article should include all details. this is true for any article.

    1. Sharon Levine says:

      I agree with Ruth. Also, this is the Hebrew year of 5778. This was the year of Creation- year 1.
      Having received both a ministerial and rabbinic certification many years ago from Monastery.org., I am deeply disappointed on the presentation of this article.
      Judaism is over 4,000 years old, , and THE only truly monotheistic religion, since we believe in going directly to G-d.

  10. Dr Frank car says:

    i would imagine the physical act of attempted murder would supercede a verbal “i divorce you” three times. Both infer permanent severance of the relationship.

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