In a story that combines elements of tragedy and farce, a Lakewood couple could face life in prison for allegedly coordinating the kidnapping and assault of an Israeli man. The relationship between the alleged victim and Rabbi David and Judy Wax is unclear, but reports say that Yisrael Briskman is a husband, who, according to an Israeli religious court, refused to give his wife the essential Jewish divorce document known as a “get.” The couple is charged with hiring two men to abduct Briskman, beat him, and threaten his life unless he coughed up the get.
Passions run high in cases of agunot — the “chained wives” who are left in legal limbo by the one-sided nature of divorce under Halacha, or Jewish law. The religious community is rife with stories of recalcitrant husbands using their unilateral power to extort cash or custody agreements, or merely to keep a women hanging out of spite. Rabbis and lawmakers propose fixes to the troubling law all the time, most recently in Israel, where the Knesset is considering two pieces of legislation. The first would speed the process for sanctioning husbands deemed recalcitrant by religious courts. The second would ensure that such courts review get disputes quickly and efficiently.
The International Coalition of Agunah Rights is also working hard within the system to find a solution to the agunot crisis. They promote a range of solutions proposed by experts in Halacha, from prenuptial agreements before marriage to betrothal annulment in the wake of divorce. Unfortunately, rabbinic authorities have not come to a consensus on such fixes.
The issue breaks into the open during lurid stories like this week’s. Yet the heartbreak of chained wives persists beyond the headlines, in hundreds if not thousands of homes here and in Israel. Without a strong showing of rabbinic will, tragic stories like these are inevitable.