Hitting, slapping, kicking, and punching are all included in the category of "physical violence." Threatening, cursing, and isolating someone socially are all called "emotional violence." Touching somebody without her consent, raping her, and incest are called "sexual violence," and the absolute dependence of a woman on her husband is called "economic violence."
So what do we call it when a husband refuses to give his wife a "get" for 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? Is this a form of violence? "Iggun" violence? Divorce violence? Marital violence? We still don't have a name for it.
While it is true that a number of years ago, the women's groups got together and established that a man who doesn't give his wife a divorce will be labeled a "sarvan get" (divorce refusenik). And in fact, calling something by its name is a good way to begin defining the problem and isolating a cause for social change.
However, society has not yet established a term that reflects the despicable act that the divorce-withholder does when he refuses his wife her freedom, and liberty to establish a new family.
As is well known, language reflects reality, and also constructs it. Therefore, we can assume that the reason society has not yet delineated that the withholding of the freedom of a person to set up a family and marry another person is a form of violence is because society has not yet been persuaded, or internalized the fact, that such an act is in fact, a violent one.
The rabbinical courts most certainly do not think that a violent act is involved. Quite the contrary, why would one call this violence? A man’s right to take possession of his wife as if she were an object of purchase (kinyan) , and not to divorce her if there are no halachic grounds to do, so is held to be a basic Jewish right of primordial origin! There is no reason for the rabbinical courts to make the claim that such a man acts in a violent way.
Civil policyThe civil courts, however, think differently. In a series of recent court decision in which a wife has petitioned for damages for divorce-refusal, the family courts held that the damages inflicted by the divorce-withholder are significant, quantifiable, and justifiable. According to the family courts, withholding a divorce violates a women’s dignity, her liberty, and her right to personal fulfillment, independent autonomy, as well as her right to marry and have children.
And now that it is clear to us that husbands who withhold the divorce are abusing their wives - "get" abuse or "Iggun" abuse - for which they must pay a price, let’s go one step forward and ask: Aren’t the rabbinical courts that stand on the side and watch as husbands abuse their wives, and sometimes even encourage this behavior, partners to the violence against women?
For example, what do you think of the decision of the High Rabbinical Court in the matter of a couple separated for 8 years, in which the husband demanded that the wife waive the judgments that the civil courts rendered in her favor: “The wife and her attorney, and the husband and his attorney, would do well to reach a fair agreement and to allow the two parties to divorce amicably since they both desire a "get.” What is this, if not violence?!
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic advocate with the Center for Women’s Justice . Telephone: 972-2-5664390