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Let My People Go!

on Friday, April 6 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

“Let my people go!” This refrain, introduced by Moshe in Egypt when he appealed to Pharaoh to liberate the Jewish people from bondage, has not only been referenced throughout Jewish history, but has been embraced by multiple peoples and cultures around the world in campaigns against injustice. In our time, I can vividly remember chanting “let my people go!” as a child, together with thousands of others, as we rallied on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

Who would have ever dreamt that today, the year 2012/5772, essentially the only people we need to address with the demand “let my people go,” are a small group of Jews themselves. As we enter the holiday of Pesach, a time characterized by freedom, liberty and emancipation, I implore you to think about a group whom remain shackled and in chains, and on whose behalf we must demand “let my people go!” I am referring to the tragic circumstance of Agunos.

An Agunah is a chained woman whose husband has not given her a Get, a Jewish legal divorce, and therefore she is unable to remarry or move on with her life. In Talmudic times, the tragic status of Agunah was attained when a woman’s husband went off to war or on a faraway business trip and his whereabouts became unknown. More recently, this horrific reality has been cast on women electively by their recalcitrant husbands who use the Get as a weapon and tool to extort, manipulate or just plain torture their wives.

Recently, the case of Tamar Epstein has become very high profile. Tamar’s husband Aharon refuses to give her a get despite their civil divorce being final and the instruction of Beis Din to do so. National media have covered this story because Aharon is a congressional staffer for Congressman Dave Camp from Michigan. Pressure has been placed on the Congressman not to employ a man who violates human dignity and performs an egregious injustice, but unfortunately, the Congressman has thus far refused to get involved.

Much less profile, but a lot closer to home, is the recent case of ——– ——– right here in South Florida. Her husband, ——–, cooperated with the civil divorce which has been finalized for months, but refuses to grant her a get. She took him to the Beth Din of America and ——– was given his day in court to explain his inactions. The Beis Din concluded that ——–‘s excuses were not valid and that he must give a get immediately. He has refused and so the Beis Din issued a Seruv, a proclamation, essentially asking Jewish communities to shun ——– and distance themselves from him until he cooperates.

——– came to me asking for help feeling abandoned by the Jewish community who have expressed no outrage and offered little to no help or support as she suffers in this limbo status and is tortured by a manipulative man. I began by contacting ——– and gently and without judgment, offered to help coordinate the giving of the get as per the Beis Din’s instructions. Suffice it to say my offer, both on voice mail and in email, was not only rejected, but ——– began a campaign to malign and defame me, including emails to our Congressman and others.

I have begun to publicize ——–‘s recalcitrance on twitter, facebook and in emails to the Rabbis of South Florida. I have contacted ——–‘s employer to let him know that if ——– does not sign the get by the end of Pesach, we will begin to organize rallies outside the business that employs him. I hope and pray that ——– will do the right thing so that he and ——– can go on with their lives in peace and prosperity. But should he hesitate and delay, it has been made clear to him that the BRS community and I will do everything within the American law and halacha that we can to encourage him to sign a get.

Many are puzzled how the Agunah phenomenon can exist in our modern era. Can’t the Rabbis find a solution? Can’t we simply annul the marriage or give her a get on his behalf without his cooperation? The subject is complex and complicated and unfortunately, solutions are not that simple. Agunah is an example of what the Rav described as a time that we throw our hands in the air and submit our understanding to the will and laws of the Almighty.

But it occurs to me, that while we must submit our understanding and accept Hashem’s laws, we don’t need to be apathetic or indifferent to bringing about the desired result. Why do we get up to open the door for Eliyahu Ha’Navi at the Seder, can’t he just come down through the chimney or walk through walls? I once heard a magnificent explanation: Eliyahu is the harbinger of Moshiach, he heralds the arrival of redemption. If you want redemption, you can’t just sit comfortably in your chair or reclining on your couch. You need to minimally get up out of your seat and do something, even if it is just opening the door.

Hashem cannot want Agunos any more than we do, but their existence provides us with an opportunity to be His partner in bringing salvation. Tragic cases like Tamar Epstein and ——– ——– challenge us to see if we will remain in our seats and on the couch, or get up and do something to bring redemption.

I am confident that when Pesach ends, if rallies must be held, you will answer the call and our community will show up in a tremendous display of support to proclaim to Aharon and ——– – Let my people go!

Chag Sameach

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