New domestic abuse law ‘could make Jewish divorce difficult for all’

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New domestic abuse law ‘could make Jewish divorce difficult for all’

The London Beth Din, the Federation Beth Din and the Board of Deputies' family law group highlight concerns over Domestic Abuse Act, which will make Get refusal illegal

Unchaining agunot, women trapped in marriages and unable to divorce 
 (Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash via Jewish News)
Unchaining agunot, women trapped in marriages and unable to divorce (Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash via Jewish News)

Communal leaders have urged the government to ensure a law making  get refusal illegal does not also inadvertently prevent couples from divorcing according to Jewish law.

The London Beth Din, the Federation Beth Din and the Board of Deputies’ family law group put forward concerns in response to a public consultation on the recently passed Domestic Abuse Act before submissions closed on Tuesday.

Highlighting that Jewish divorce – a get – must be given voluntarily and without coercion, the Federation Beth Din stressed any law criminalising get refusal would not be acceptable in Jewish law (halacha).

The Federation Beth Din said it “was invited to engage with government figures and made substantive representations on the mater”.

It also made a submission “surrounding the statutory guidance for the implementation of the Act, to ensure that the legislation will be used to help rather than hinder the plight of agunot [chained spouse]”.

The United Synagogue’s London Beth Din also made a submission, welcoming the act for “broadening the definition of what constitutes domestic abuse and for enabling more victims of domestic abuse to benefit” from the law.

It explained however, that a get “cannot be imposed” and must be an “arrangement between the divorcing parties” which can “only be given with the free will of the husband and it can only be received with the free will of the wife”, according to Jewish law.

“If either party chooses not to cooperate in the granting/receiving of a get, in most circumstances, a get cannot be effected.”

Naomi Dickson, CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid, said the new law would act as a “deterrent” to would-be abusers.

She said “no woman should experience get refusal, especially where it is weaponised as a tool of abuse, and we therefore welcome the inclusion of get refusal in this guidance.”

Nahamu, which campaigns against extremism in the Jewish community, said its own “submission makes clear our concerns about spiritual abuse being facilitated by a recalcitrant husband or batei din, or both.”

Calling on the community to “deliver practical improvements for women navigating this awful abuse”, the group also called for the “inclusion of forced marriage in the guidance, bolstering legislation that includes emotional and psychological pressure in the criminal offence.”

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