Getting a Jewish "get"

New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer has another fascinating piece about how a religious divorce dispute has led to a protest. Here's how he frames the story, which was running prominently in the online version of the paper:

This should have been a good New Year's for Aharon Friedman, a 34-year-old tax counsel for the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee. He spent time with his 3-year-old daughter, and could have been thinking about the influence he will have starting Wednesday, when his boss, Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, becomes chairman of the powerful tax-writing committee.

Instead, Mr. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, finds himself scrutinized in the Jewish press, condemned by important rabbis, and attacked in a YouTube video showing about 200 people protesting outside his Silver Spring, Md., apartment on Dec. 19. They were angered by Mr. Friedman's refusal to give his wife, Tamar Epstein, 27, a Jewish decree of divorce, known as a get.

The Friedman case has become emblematic of a torturous issue in which only a husband can "give" a get. While Jewish communities have historically pressured obstinate husbands to give gets, this was a very rare case of seeking to shame the husband in the secular world.

Dramatic story, to say the least. We learn about a crowd of Orthodox Jews imploring the husband to permit the religious divorce. They've been civilly divorced since April and share custody of their daughter. We learn that most men in Jewish divorces grant gets but that there might be several hundred in the U.S. who have refused.

We learn little about the reason for the divorce, just that the wife asked for one less than two years after they were married. Both sides involved civil courts.

Anyway, just as you're about to join the protest against the father, we learn a bit more about why he hasn't granted the get:

All parties have said that Mr. Friedman is angry about the custody order, which grants him three weekends a month with his daughter, two of them in Philadelphia, beginning at 6 p.m. on Fridays. As a religious Jew, Mr. Friedman will not drive from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday -- so he cannot see his daughter until Sunday.

The custody order is "a joke," said Yisroel Belsky, a prominent Brooklyn rabbi. "The court decided in a bullheaded way not to respect the Shabbos," or Sabbath, he said in a interview.

And the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington issued a statement saying that the parties had not yet exhausted the rabbinical courts, suggesting it was premature to blame Mr. Friedman for withholding the get.

We learn that other rabbis have argued that the custody dispute doesn't matter, the husband should still grant the get.

The story explains the terminology as needed. Epstein sought help from an Orthodox group called Organization for the Resolution of Agunot. Earlier we were told that "agunah" means a chained woman.

It's an interesting and incredibly well written story. If you read the whole thing, you won't have any easy answers. It begins with a feminist angle but at some point it seems to provoke more questions about court decisions that fail to take into account religious views.

In fact, the story is so fascinating that I wish we could learn even more about this sad dispute and what it means for female Orthodox Jews, civil vs. religious divorce, the rights of fathers.

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