I got married in Jan, and lost a baby at the beginning of March. My husband left me mid-March. He owes me money; he is in a bad financial way, and I have basically supported him.
I paid for the wedding and basically paid for everything, even the rings. He's now refusing to give me a 'get' (a Jewish bill of divorce) [Administrators note: Making this person an Agunah - search for other questions on JVO using this term]. I'm am trying to get the rabbis to mediate, but he's turned vicious on me. I landed up in hospital with severe depression, and he basically said I was looking for attention. He's stalling the civil proceeding, but that's easy, its just this 'get' that I'm worried about. What can I do?
I got married in an Orthodox setting, but an issue is that I, not my husband, purchased the ring [used in the wedding]. Can I annul the marriage because it was not 'kosher' since he did not provide the ring for the ceremony? How can I proceed under Jewish law and according to Jewish values?
[Administrators note: Other questions on our website also touch on this subject. Please search for the term 'agunah' to find them.]
I am pained by the troubles you are facing – certainly my condolences and sympathies are with you and I hope that you find strength and comfort.
Your first concern should always be to take care of yourself. The Jewish value of Piku’ah Nefesh (caring for the soul) reminds us that self-care should be of upmost importance. In that respect, I want to also acknowledge my own limitations and the limitations of any spiritual counseling. You should seek out a trained therapist to help you work through these issues.
A marriage, once consecrated, cannot be undone. In my opinion it is not the right approach to try and annul the marriage – at least in the context of a Jewish ritual. If the ketubah was signed and a civil ceremony was performed then the wedding is valid. The Jewish concept of dina demalhuta dina (the law of the land is the law) would apply here. Depending on the community you belong to (I assume that since you were married in an orthodox setting that you are part of that community and wish to remain part of that community moving forward) I would encourage you to reach out to your rabbi and get specific advice. Likely your rabbi will know members of the local beyt din and s/he can help you navigate through that process.
The pain of a life lost is one that remains with us for the rest of our lives. There is no easy way to recover and the only thing that can ease our pain is time. I am reminded of the psalmist who writes “there is no longer a prayer upon my lips” in response to unspeakable tragedy. Sometimes there is no right thing – all we can do is sit and be present for one another.
May The Source of Compassion grant you comfort during this period of your struggling, and may you come to find all the peace that you seek.
I would suggest that you contact AJOF (American Jewish Orthodox Feminists), and they will give you suggestions on how to proceed. Though it is true that marriages have been annulled because the groom did not own the ring at the time of the wedding, to the best of my knowledge those annulments took place ‘bediavad’ after the fact. In other words a woman had remarried without a Get, had a child, and now that child wants to get married according to Jewish law. On an individual basis, accepted Poskim (orthodox Jewish legal experts) have annulled a first marriage because of the lack of groom ownership of the ring, removing the Mamzer (illegitimate birth) stigma of the present child, and permitting that child’s marriage. I am not aware, however, of Poskim who have annulled marriage ‘lechatchila’ initially because of the ring issue. Nevertheless, JOFA will have much greater knowledge of the issue, and can at the very least direct you to Aguna organizations who deal with your specific issue. May G-d grant you quick healing (most people do not understand the torment of a major depression), and may your issue quickly be resolved so that you can, if you wish, find a partner with whom you can share love and happiness.
I am saddened to hear that you are facing such a difficult and tumultuous situation; the events you described are a lot to go through even over a period of years, let alone in a few short months. I encourage you to find a local rabbi who can serve as a spiritual support as well as guide you through the practical issues you raised in your question.
As far as the specific questions you raised regarding your husband’s refusal to grant a get and the possibility of annulment, the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards affirmed in 1981 that “opinions and decisions [related to divorce] should only be made by those who are thoroughly trained in the subject” (http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/20012004/22.pdf). For the Conservative movement, “those who are thoroughly trained in the subject” are the expert mesadrei gittin (“Divorce Arrangers”) trained by the movement and experienced in helping men and women through this difficult process, and as I am not an expert in this area I can answer your question in only the most general terms (a list of these mesadrei gittin world-wide, who would be able to provide specific advice on your situation, can be found at http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/jewish-law/mesaddrei-gittin).
First, it is important to acknowledge that, even in the best of circumstances, the process of obtaining a gett (Jewish religious divorce document) can take months or even years. This process will certainly take time, and the fact that it has gotten off to a rocky start does not necessarily preclude the possibility of a satisfactory ending. For instance, you indicated that your civil divorce is not yet finalized; but it is the practice of Conservative mesadrei gittin not to begin work on issuing a gett until the civil divorce decree has been finalized and judgment entered in the civil registry. This should not discourage you from seeking specific advice from a rabbi or mesader gett at this point, but I wanted to highlight that this process could take a good deal more time to resolve.
As you suggested, the question of who owned the ring at the time of the wedding ceremony might prove to be grounds for hafka’at kiddushin (literally, “uprooting of betrothal,” the Hebrew term for annulment); there may well be additional grounds to justify such a move. The mechanism of hafka’at kiddushin has been eloquently described elsewhere on this site by Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, and I recommend you look at his full answer there. In particular, he notes: “The Conservative movement has contended that ‘all who marry do so under the authority of the rabbis’ (Gittin 33a) and that if the supervising bet din were to remove that authorization because of the refusal of the husband to follow the directives of the rabbinic court, the marriage could be retroactively annulled (hafqa’at kiddushin)” (http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=275).
While the Conservative movement has accepted hafka’at kiddushin as a theoretically valid option for nearly fifty years, its application remains extremely rare. While precise statistics are not available, when I asked the mesader gett in my area how often he sees cases of hafka’at kiddushin he estimated that fewer than 1% of divorce cases in his experience have ended in hafka’at kiddushin; nearly all cases ultimately ended up with the husband granting the wife a gett. (The potential problems with hafka’at kiddushin, as well as the reasons for its infrequent application, are described in detail by Rabbi Frydman-Kohl in the answer cited above).
I hope that this and the other answers have reassured you that, in all movements, there are rabbis who have the will and the means to protect you from becoming an agunah; as that may take time, I wish you strength and patience to see the process through.
First, allow me to express my sincere condolences on the loss you suffered in early March. Baruch dayan haemet - may you be comforted by the One who comforts.
It sounds as if everything came upon you all at once. I don't know all the circumstances and can't comment on the situation, but I can only imagine that this sequence of events would have been horrible. To be in the situation of an 'agunah' (a chained woman) on top of all this must be very upsetting and frustrating.
My colleagues will ably respond to the Halachic issues you raise concerning ownership of the ring. I don't think that is a very strong argument, but I am not in a position to render any sort of Halachic/legal advice. That also is the purview of the Beit Din that would be constituted for a Get process - and they will determine how to interpret the specific facts of the case.
Speaking as a Reform rabbi, I can tell you that there are inconsistent responses that you will receive from within the Reform rabbinate. Some in the Reform world would accept your civil divorce and not require a get (Jewish divorce decree) - a position that was affirmed in 1980 [see American Reform Responsa 162, (Vol. XC, 1980, pp. 84-86), http://ccarnet.org/responsa/arr-511-514/.].
Others, myself included, given what you say, would urge you to seek a get to assure that there would be no concern or question about your ability to remarry within the Orthodox or Conservative communities where you live, or the status of any future children you have [as in the 1994 CCAR Responsa 5754.6, http://ccarnet.org/responsa/tfn-no-5754-6-209-215/].
I also note that the Reform movement has not established a formal Get - there is a Seder Peridah (Document of Separation) that is available, but it is specifically not intended or accepted as a Get (see New American Reform Responsa 233, July 1988, http://ccarnet.org/responsa/narr-369-374/]. There isno Reform Get or Get process in place - something I hope the Reform movement will rectify at some point, because it is needed so long as the status of Agunah is a possibility in the Jewish world
The end result is that I agree with your feeling that you need a Get.
However, I would point out to you that you will not require it until (unless) you are planning to remarry and/or have a child. So long as you do neither of those things, there is no immediate call for the Get. Practically, you can wait for a time. Your ex-husband may eventually tire of being prodded and agree to 'get rid' of the annoyance, particularly if he finds someone else and seeks to marry, and your request for a Get keeps popping up and annoying her.
I am sorry that I have no easy answer for you. I hope that your ex-husband recognizes and does the right thing, and that this works out satisfactorily all around. I hope also that you find the right doctors, counselors, rabbis, and other supports you need, and that you find your way to a fulfilled life with happiness and joy.
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