What began as an exploration of the opening verses of this week’s portion which discuss an Eishet Yefat To’ar – Woman Captured in War, quickly evolved into a discussion of woman’s rights during divorce and the difficulties we still face of agunot – chained women and the deplorable stories of ransoming of the “get”.
To better relate to the concept of Eishet Yefat To’ar - the woman captured in war, let’s consider the news this past Friday. 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest received their Ranger tabs, becoming the first women ever to successfully complete the U.S. Army's Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. — a grueling course that puts a premium on physical strength and endurance. The first question people asked was if this meant that for the first time in US history we would be sending women into combat. The answer wasn’t really clear. As of January of next year, combat roles will open to women such as Griest and Haver unless there is a compelling reason to keep them out. If you ask to define compelling, nobody is answering that question which is understandable given the reluctance of many generals to even consider sending women into the battle at all.
War is a dangerous place. It’s dangerous for soldiers and even more dangerous for women. Soldiers in war are often likened to animals. The words rape and pillage go hand in hand with battle. This is true throughout history and this is true today.” ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape”, read a number of stories this weekend coming out of the Middle East. We can only imagine the horrors a female soldier captured by ISIS would be subject to.
In ancient times, a woman caught in war became a prize to be taken or discarded, to be sold or kept. The ancient Hebrew soldier was given strict rules to follow if his passion sought to overtake him. He must bring her home, shave her head, and pare her nails. She is to remain there for 30 days mourning over her lost mother and father and only after that, if he still desires her can she become his wife. Not his concubine, nor his servant but his wife. The law is very clear bestowing upon her all the rights and status of a wife.
As a result, if he later decides that he does not want to remain married to her, he may divorce her as he would divorce a wife, and she goes from the marriage as a free citizen who can marry whomever she pleases.
If the Torah had not spoken at all, the natural assumption of the people would be that you could do with a captive whatever you desired. To the victor go the spoils, and this included sheep, cattle, vessels, gold, and captives. Captives would become slaves, and if there were a beautiful captive woman, then one could take her as a concubine or more likely as a slave or to employ as a prostitute. We must assume that was the the contemporary legal/moral-ethical climate and status quo at the time the Torah was given, We must appreciate the greatness of the Torah is coming to disabuse them of that notion and to grant the female captives certain rights unheard of in that day and age.
And as the discussion moved into these rights, I lamented on the sad state of affairs even in our community when it comes to women’s rights in divorce. I have been asked to mediate on a number of occasions. I have always insisted that the Get or Jewish Divorce document not be part of negotiations. I always insisted that once the couple was separated and we were trying to work out the details, both financial and family, that the get be given prior to anything else. Recently though I was asked to assist in mediation and the husband was adamant that the giving of get is part of the negotiation. I was shocked. You left her? You want a divorce? There’s no working this out? You want to move on? Why do you insist on punishing her? I turned to other community Rabbis and those I spoke with took the side that the Get is part of the final settlement and would not back me up. This really bothered me and disappointed me. I have seen men demand six figures and more for a get from the wife’s family and smaller figures are regularly paid. With the hatred and spite factors, I have seen at least one couple spend one million dollars on lawyers and court related expenses and still have neither a settlement nor a get.
One man told me that he would never give a get. He told me that holding back the get didn’t prevent him from remarrying (and per Sephardic law he is correct), so why not ransom it? If his wife wanted it that bad, she would have to pay with her kids and her money. I don’t think that this was what the Rabbis had in mind!
I also don’t understand why every community wedding does not insist on a pre-nuptial agreement that would minimize a battle later on. Many of the Ashkenaz rabbis I know insist on the signing of this document. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) states that this pre-nuptial agreement is the single most effective solution to the agunah problem; and maintains a 100% success rate in preventing get-refusal in the context of a divorce following marriages where it was properly signed and notarized.
One rabbi was reluctant to use it as it names the Beth Din of America as the Beth Din to be used. I posed this question to another dear and respected rabbi who simply texted back that the form could be modified to stipulate a Beth Din of their choice. And that leaves me with another question.
We have an incredible community. But still we have this problem. Why don’t we have our own form? Why don’t we insist on its use? And why don’t we do all we can to assist these women who are suffering terribly? Who are we afraid of?
The rabbis speak up about so many things, what happened to this one?
The Torah cautions us to treat a captive woman taken in war with respect and fairness and grants her legal rights. Why can’t we grant the same respect to our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives?