My wife, daughter, and I are on a much needed vacation in Haifa for a week. We arrived here on Friday before Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), in time to order prepared food and go shopping for groceries. I love how happy it makes our daughter to go to the beach with both of her parents.
Anyway, it’s difficult for me to fully relax and enjoy our vacation, as I’ve been preoccupied with some very heavy issues, especially related to a family friend of ours who fled from her abusive husband just days ago.
Thinking of our friend
Last week, we found out that this friend, who got married several months ago to an ultra-Orthodox man has been psychologically, sexually, and physically abused by him. Some of these things you just cannot make up – her husband took over our friend’s computer and tablet, and he deleted contacts from her phone without her permission. Also, he took to tracking her physical location on Google Maps.
What’s particularly shocking to me is how quickly all of this transpired. Keep in mind that they’ve only been married for several months; and he’s already accused her of infidelity (utterly absurd to anyone who knows her), merely because she happens to have male coworkers.
The Jewish context
There is so much wrapped up in her story, and, sadly, there are many distinctly Jewish and Israeli elements to it that are profoundly disturbing.
Traditional Jewish divorce
First of all, it’s important to know that in Jewish religious law, which is called halakhah, married couples can only get divorced if the husband initiates the process. So… too many abusive Jewish husbands take advantage of this loophole and deny their wives the divorces they desire – or: demand that their wives pay them to get divorced.
Not only that, but according to halakhah, a husband can father children with other women without being penalized for it. However, if a married Jewish woman bears a child fathered by a man other than her husband, that child will automatically be assigned the religious status of ‘mamzer’, a child of an illicit relationship, which carries tremendous religious penalties with it for the child’s entire life.
I don’t want to get into all of the technical religious details here, but you can see where I’m going with this, right?
Limited dating pool
Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is this unfortunate reality: choosing to restrict one’s self to dating only members of a small religious community dramatically limits one’s marital options. This is especially true for “older” singles, converts, people of color, people with disabilities, etc. who are considered less socially desirable in insular religious societies.
Of course, such discrimination does not only exist in Orthodox Jewish society. However, it’s terrible that sincerely devout, God-loving women like our friend are statistically more likely to find themselves married to abusive husbands than they would be if they were not limited to this much smaller and less accepting dating pool.
Jewish divorce in Israel
I don’t know what direction our friend’s story is going to take, but she’s planning on filing for divorce… And hopefully, she’ll do so before her husband takes the initiative and files against her.
In Israel, you see, married couples can either get divorced through the civil courts or the religious rabbinical courts, depending upon which courts the divorces are filed at. And, sadly, the religious courts tend to favor men over women, empowering husbands to keep their wives religiously “chained” to marriages that they want to leave… indefinitely unable to remarry.
My heart breaks.