M. had initially requested a divorce six years ago. She had had enough of the violence and the humiliation, but her husband refused to provide a get (religious divorce papers). During six years of proceedings at the rabbinical court, the judges declined to force the recalcitrant husband to divorce his suffering wife.
Meanwhile, M.’s husband continued to physically and verbally abuse her. Although the neighbors were aware of what went on in the couple’s home, no one dared to interfere. In the haredi neighborhood where the couple lived with their four children, the unspoken rules were sacred: Don’t involve the police, and don’t air your dirty laundry in public.
However, when the violence became unbearable, M. found the strength to overcome haredi social norms and submitted a complaint to the police. Welfare Agency workers arrived to handle the case and submitted a comprehensive report, which included details of the emotional abuse endured by M. and her children, to the rabbinical court. In addition, welfare officials recommended that the parents be assessed, but the evaluation never took place.
Furthermore, the report asserted that since the children were negatively affected by their parents’ cohabitation, the couple should separate, and the wife should be granted a divorce.
The husband claimed that M. did not know what she really wanted and that she was emotionally unstable. He also insisted that a divorce would harm the children’s marriage prospects and that the daughter would not be accepted to the school of her choice.
At one point, the husband managed to get M. to sign a “shalom bayit” (“domestic peace”) agreement, which obligated her to go to the mikvah (ritual pool in which a woman must immerse approximately once a month in order for marital relations to resume) against her will and “to remain calm at home and to clean from the morning until the night”.
Moreover, he coerced M. to consent to a clause which specified that she must appear at the rabbinic court without legal representation.
As a result, M. was required to prove to the court that she was mentally competent and that she did, in fact, wish to divorce her husband. M. even submitted professional testimonials to the court, but the judges preferred to side with the husband, who maintained that only he knew what was in his wife’s best interest.
Finally, after six long years of suffering and torment, M. could no longer stomach the pain and degradation, and she jumped to her death.
Miriam Goldfisher is a rabbinic pleader