Under Jewish law, to remarry in an Orthodox or Conservative synagogue, you need a Jewish divorce – a “get.” The problem is that, with narrow exceptions, the man’s permission is required. So, even when a woman is legally divorced in the eyes of the state, she cannot remarry in her faith when the ex-husband refuses a get. She is, under Jewish law, an “agunah” — a “chained woman.”
According to the New York Times article Religious Divorce Dispute Leads to Secular Protest, Aharon Friedman, a 34-year-old tax counsel for the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee refuses to give a get to his ex-wife Tamar Epstein. The two were civilly divorced by a Maryland court in April and the husband has been upset with the court-ordered parenting schedule. Ms. Epstein claims that he is withholding consent in order to renegotiate the schedule.
Mr. Friedman’s obstinacy has sparked angry protests outside his home that have been spearheaded by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) — an agunah advocacy group. He’s also been condemned by the local Jewish press. A recent editorial in a D.C.-area Jewish paper, headlined “Unchain this Woman,” implored Friedman to be a “mensch” and give his ex-wife the divorce.
Ms. Epstein’s problem may have been preventable, however. An observant Jewish couple should sign a prenuptial agreement requiring the husband to provide a get in the event of a civil divorce. An observant married couple might consider a postnuptial agreement, now explicitly permitted in Massachusetts provided certain requirements are met. In either event, each spouse or prospective spouse needs to retain separate lawyers before signing any such agreement. This is not a do-it-yourself project.
Although canned agreements are available online, most would not be enforceable in Massachusetts.