by Aliza BasMenachem
It was about 15 years ago, while working for a Jewish newspaper, when I read an article that was submitted for publication about women being refused a get. The article said that the pain of such women was greater than anyone else’s pain.
Something didn’t seem right. There are women who never marry; there are women who never give birth or raise children; there are people who are struck by disease, war, terror, extreme poverty . . . there is even suffering inside marriages, not only after a marriage has broken down. My innocent concern led me to call the author, tell her I presumed she had made a mistake, and suggest she modify her claim about pain, so that she would come across as empathizing with others, rather than superseding the pain of others. Yes, a woman who cannot remarry suffers differently than others—partially because the one inflicting the pain on her has the capability of erasing the pain—but I did not want the author to be putting herself in a position of seeming to be unsympathetic and self-absorbed.
On the phone, the author made it clear to me that she had not made a mistake and that her pain was worse than anyone else’s. There was hostility in her voice. My editor told me that it was her name going on the article, so I was to put it in the newspaper exactly how the author had sent it. And I did. And I have not been able to forget the incident. And, judging from prevailing attitudes, I seem to have been mistaken, because the readers did not think she was being unsympathetic and self-absorbed.
So it should come as no surprise to me that an article I saw posted on 5TJT.com, “A Second Look at Rabbi Wolmark,” by Rabbi Yair Hoffman (see Page 76), describes the state of a woman without a get as such: “She is consigned to loneliness—a solitary isolated existence without opportunity for love . . . It is the ultimate cruelty. . . . These women . . . suffer a veritable hell on earth.”
It is this perspective that led men to don the role of the knight in shining armor, to slay the dragon of the get-refusing husband, and to end up behind bars. And to anyone who dared disagree with the kidnapping-and-torture method came the horrifying question of “what if it were your daughter?”
I think it is time to review this perspective of the suffering get-less woman, and give it some balance.
The get is not a magic wand that transports a woman from an insufferable marriage to a marriage of earthly pleasures and heavenly bliss. The get is a release from an ended marriage. It has merit in that, alone. But it is not a guarantee that the alleged “veritable hell on earth” of being unmarried will end.
It is my opinion that being single is not a veritable hell on earth. Especially for a woman who has experienced the pain of a failed marriage. Unless, of course, the marriage wasn’t all that bad. Because when a marriage is really painful enough to validate ending it, a woman would not want to rush to the next marriage. She would be thankful to be unbridled from a cruel man (the type who refuse to give a get), even if she were not able to remarry. A realistic woman knows that second marriages are a challenge, and even more so when children are involved.
But then, I am aware that the same situation can and does generate different responses in different people. I am sure some women do feel they are living a hell on earth because they do not have a get. The same way I am sure there are people who suffer hell on earth for other reasons. I don’t think pain is something that can be measured from one person to another. When a heart breaks, there is pain. We cannot say that one person’s pain is more excruciating or more valid than another person’s pain. But I do think there are trends that influence the perception of how one is to react to a particular stimulus causing the pain. And that those trends often prevent one from taking a closer look at the stimulus and cause one to resist alternative viewpoints.
If a woman without a get is healthy, and if she has healthy children, she has plenty to be thankful for. Yes, her cup is half-empty—but it is also half-full. When a get is out of reach, it is time to think in terms of living the life of a single woman without a get as being acceptable. That does not mean the woman and her friends and family should end their attempts to attain the get; it just means that life with dignity continues, even without a get. At a certain point, when all reasonable channels to attain a get have failed, a woman can say to herself, “I am not going to let this ruin my life.”
Suffering from being without a get is not a physical sickness with no medicine. The suffering is an attitude. A woman can decide that if Hashem has a bashert for her, then Hashem has ways of making her available so they can marry.
I am not privy to the reasons men withhold the get, but I have reason to believe there is an attitude amongst the get-refusing husbands that withholding the get will ruin the lives of their womenfolk. Based on this attitude, if women begin to temper their obsessions for obtaining a get, then their new reaction—that living without a get will not ruin their lives—will take some the leverage out of the get refusal. Refusing to give a get will no longer reward the men with a feeling of power, as it did when the obsession was strong.
There are so many opportunities for women in today’s society that it is sad that women are so obsessed with remarriage.
It is only natural to want to remarry. It is also natural to eat endless amounts of chocolate and ice cream. Yes, I know that marriage is not just a craving like chocolate; marriage is a mitzvah. But the One who designates which mitzvah is ours to do at what time . . . He has designated this time for the woman without a get to be without a husband. Marriage and remarriage are on Hashem’s calendar. He has His Divine plans.
In fact, I want to rephrase that. It’s not just that Hashem has designated this time to be without a husband; rather, Hashem has designated this opportunity for the woman without a get to be without a husband. I really think it is an opportunity. An opportunity to look inside herself and bring out the deepest resources that are needed in this painful period of her life. She can choose to use this opportunity to grow her character and personality, and increase in acts of goodness and kindness.
In her book The Fourth Instinct, Arianna Huffington challenges the sufferer to answer if their “pain has served as a thread or a noose—whether we have, through it, inched forward, or whether we feel trapped, disempowered, unable to move in any direction.” She clarifies that we would not choose to live with pain, but that when it happens to us, we do have a choice: “When we flee from pain, we are fleeing from an opportunity to grow.”
A calmer attitude towards living without a get will benefit the children because the mother is not obsessing about her desire to remarry. It is painful for children to witness their mother as a victim who is suffering. And it is painful for them to witness their mother campaigning against their father.
After exploring all reasonable avenues of attaining a get, if a woman will allow herself to be comforted with faith that Hashem is on her side, then she will be able to lead a fulfilling life in the role Hashem has intended for her. The healthier attitude will cause her and her children to be healthier, and yes, happier.
In a recent article on JNS.org, entitled “American Olim Create Spiritual Approach to Dealing with Illness,” Judy Lash Balint reports on an organization called Life’s Door/Tishkofet: “Support groups and retreats with an emphasis on taking control and finding the spiritual strength to confront illness are all part of how Tishkofet leaders hope to change society’s view of illness.”
If this organization, Tishkofet, is seeing progress in their efforts to change society’s view of illness, it seems to me that a serious effort to change the attitude of the woman without a get can also be achieved. Rather than being steeped in self-pity, anger, hostility, and revenge, a balanced perception of the predicament makes it possible to help relieve suffering, and bring goodness to lives that are otherwise chained to an obsession. v