With so many marriages exploding around me, I’ve been learning some things that I never knew before. One thing I learned this week is that in this olam hafuch, there are apparently a lot of women in Israel who are refusing to take a get from their husband.
Yes, you read that right.
The way the law is set up here, the courts come down really, really heavily on ‘get-refusing’ husbands, and basically treat them as criminals. Like you, I initially thought this was an amazing thing! I campaigned on behalf of a young aguna in London, whose ex was trying to extort millions of pounds out of her wealthy family. It took a good few years of communal pressure (plus a couple of million pounds still…) but in the end he gave the get.
So I was thrilled to hear things are different in Israel. Another aguna I knew was stuck get-less for over 20 years. Then her daughter got married in Israel, the dad flew in for the wedding, and on the way out of Ben Gurion he was arrested and jailed until he gave the get. It took two days!
So that was amazing.
But now, I’ve been hearing more and more stories of how things are being taken to a very unhealthy extreme the other way, with men being forced to cede all of their financial rights, and all of their custody requests, before the women will accept the get the men are trying to give them.
Because as long as the women can tell the court that the man hasn’t given them a get, the court can and does impose a number of punitive measures against him until this situation changes.
Again, if the man is refusing to give a get straight up, as ‘punishment’ or ‘vengeance’ – then punitive action against him is usually the right course of action to take, on many levels.
But, if the woman is refusing to accept the get solely in order that she can dictate all the terms of the divorce without having to take the husband’s feelings and needs into account?
This doesn’t seem right to me.
I heard of one case where a woman refused her get three times, until the husband agreed to cede 100% of the house to her – and to keep paying the mortgage on it.
I know kids should be taken care of as much as possible, I really do. But I can’t help but think that if providing the kids with a home is such an over-arching imperative, why are people so quick to rush for a divorce in the first place? Don't they know that getting divorced is going to cause everybody - including them - huge financial challenges?
Getting divorced doesn’t add more money to the pot, doesn’t make it easier to pay the bills. Now there are two households to run instead of one, and while the husbands definitely do owe the wife something – as per halacha – I’m getting increasingly turned-off by people who initiate a divorce whilst continuing to have completely unrealistic expectations of the high standard of living their ex-husbands apparently ‘owe’ them for choosing to give up on their marriage.
If the man was unfaithful, if he was physically violent, or terribly, destructively abusive, or a compulsive gambler, or a dangerous drug addict, then it goes without saying that the circumstances are very different from what I'm describing here, and the divorcing wife needs as much support and help as possible.
But here's the thing: I’ve seen women in those circumstances, and when they get divorced they are so grateful to be free of danger their husbands pose to them and their children, getting money out of their ex tends to be the last thing on their minds.
The sort of divorces I'm talking about don't involve any 'abnormal' mental illness or abuse (because let's be honest, we're all crazy today, and none of us treat other people the way we really should). Really, it's more the case that the wife just doesn't want to deal with the challenge of being married to a difficult, unrectified person anymore, but she still wants full access to his pay packet.
Here's the thing: men are also people.
Unless they fit the description three paragraphs back, they should also be treated with a little compassion. It’s hard enough bringing home the money when you have a home and a family to support you. When you’re working just as hard to pay the mortgage on the house you used to own while you slum it in a rented bed-sit, that can’t be an easy thing at all.
I know divorce is super-complicated, and it’s almost never black and white. But again, why are so many people believing the lies they are being told that divorce is the easy option, and the solution to all their problems, and easier than staying in a difficult marriage?
If a man was dodging his responsibility to pay the bills when you were married to him, how is divorcing him going to change that? If he couldn’t get you a nice house when you were married to him, how is he going to do that as your ex? If he didn’t ‘get help’ for all his mental issues and emotional problems – all of which will manifest themselves in your kids, if they aren’t properly sorted out – when you were married, why should he do that know you’re divorced?
All of us are so messed up today, that every single couple probably has good grounds for divorce, if the point of staying married is to enjoy yourself and have a lot of money.
But the Torah doesn’t say anywhere that this is what marriage is meant to be about.
The Torah view of marriage is that it’s a way of rectifying the world as you work on yourself, and your own issues and problems that your spouse is simply reflecting back at you.
As usual, the ones who suffer the most from this madness are the children.
MARRIAGE IS WORK
I’ve been married 20 years now, and me and my husband have been through our fair share of ups and downs. I’ve had so many internal demons to try to face down, he couldn’t work for two years, we no longer own our own house, we’ve had countless trials and tribulations that put a big strain on our relationship.
We both dealt with all this stuff by upping our hitbodedut and trying to work on our emuna that everything that has happened is just coming from God, and is coming to rectify something. Sure, I could have blamed him for everything, he could have blamed me for everything - but that's the anti-emuna approach.
The emuna approach is to accept that we are both flawed, we both need a lot of fixing, and that underneath it all, we're both actually really nice people. Our job is to pray, get God involved in overcoming our challenges, and to try to see the good as much as possible in each other and in our lives, and to take nothing for granted.
Right now, I don’t work (for money…) so my husband is paying for everything.
Right now, I am so grateful to my husband that he goes out every single day and makes a living for me and my children. That he puts a roof over my head, and food on the table, and lets me do whatever it is I do (for no money…). My husband signed the ketuba with minimal requirements to look after me materially, so this is his responsibility, I know.
But I am still so grateful to him for all the effort he’s making on my behalf, because earning a living today is incredibly stressful and hard. My husband doesn’t ‘owe’ me my own home. He doesn’t ‘owe’ me thousands of shekels every month in spending money. He doesn’t ‘owe’ me a cleaner, a car, nice holidays.
And we’re still actually married.
And for his part, every time my husband finds a clean pair of socks in his drawer, he's grateful. (Full disclosure: doing the washing on time is not always so easy for me ;-)
So you want to get divorced, that’s up to you. But then take responsibility for what your choice is going to do to both your finances and your family and your standard of living. Don’t just view your ex-husband as some sort of ATM that ‘owes’ you stuff, and rejoice in how low you can bring him so that he’s walking around in shabby shoes and lives in a 25 sqm dump of a room.
He’s also suffering. He’s lost everything – his wife, his family, his home and his self-esteem. For the sake of your kids, you need to work with your ex to ensure he also still has some hope and some joy in life, and also, at least a little of the money that he’s working so hard to bring home.
Otherwise, your divorce won’t be the answer to your prayers and the big ‘solution’ you think it is, even if you do manage to walk away with all the money. It’ll just be a gateway to years of bitterness, hatred, anger and suffering.
And as always, it’s the kids who will suffer the most.
God-forbid, I'm not trying to be needlessly controversial by writing this piece. Simply, I can see there is a lot of hypocrisy going on in the frum Jewish community where women are loudly banging the 'equality' drum on the one hand and demanding equal rights, but still expecting the man to pick up all the debts and financial responsibility when it comes to divorce.
The men themselves aren't allowed to point out the inconsistencies that are abounding all over the place without being called 'misogynist', so I'm simply trying to point out that when any party in a divorce ceases to view the other person as a human being, and ceases to have a minimal amount of compassion for them, this is a reflection of bad middot, and will only cause unnecessary suffering and damage to the family over the long run.
No-one should be trying to force their terms unilaterally on the other party in a divorce.
Divorcing couples need to talk to each other and take the other person's viewpoint into account. If they do that, maybe some good can be salvaged from the divorce, and the destruction and hurt will be minimised.
But if you take one message away from this post, let it be this: DIVORCE IS NOT THE EASY OPTION. Sometimes, it's still the necessary thing to do, but in most situations, it's only going to make a challenging set of circumstances even worse.