“Despite offers [to fix custody issues the husband objects to] by the wife, which she’s put her name to and signed, [and] rabbis have vouched [for] on her behalf, the husband has not been willing to agree to anything.” All attempts to persuade Friedman to give his wife a get have been unsuccessful and Friedman’s representative allegedly demanded $1 million from his wife's family to ensure that she keeps to any new custody conditions.
Not letting go: The anatomy of an Agunah
By Michael Orbach • The Jewish Star
His name is Aharon Friedman, and he is refusing to give his ex-wife a get.
Activists blast Friedman, a high-profile lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, for withholding the religious document that would enable his ex-wife, Tamar Epstein, to remarry, making her an Agunah, or “chained woman. “But Friedman’s supporters maintain that is the last resort of a man desperate to maintain a relationship with his young daughter, and that the get is a so-called “nuclear” option in a messy divorce.
On Sunday, the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, a group that works to facilitate the granting of gets from recalcitrant husbands, held a rally at Friedman’s apartment in Silver Spring, MD. According to Rabbi Jeremy Stern, the director of ORA, 300 people attended.
“Despite offers by the wife, which she’s put her name to and signed, rabbis have vouched on her behalf, the husband has not been willing to agree to anything,” Rabbi Stern said. The group has been working to persuade Friedman to give Epstein a get for several months but has been unsuccessful. The rally was the second one the group held for this case; the first took place in Brooklyn in August.
Among the attendees in Maryland was Rabbi Shmuly Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom, the National Synagogue in Washington, D.C.
“Aaron Friedman should give his wife a get immediately,” Rabbi Herzfelt wrote in an email to The Jewish Star. “I call upon the other rabbis in the area to ‘take a stand’ in this matter and to strongly condemn Aaron’s behavior.”
Epstein and Freidman were married in 2006, when Epstein was 22 and Friedman was 29. According to Epstein, the marriage was “rocky from the start,” but the couple had a daughter together in Maryland.
Friedman declined to speak to The Star. In 2008, Epstein moved back with her parents in Philadelphia. Friedman filed an emergency motion to get the couple’s daughter back. No immediate action was taken on the motion, but the couple agreed to go to the Baltimore Bet Din. Months passed, but the Bet Din didn’t come to a verdict and the case returned to a secular court where Epstein was granted custody.
Court documents provided to The Jewish Star show two parents engaged in a bitter custody dispute over their daughter. “Defendant is a loving mother and has been the child’s primary caregiver since birth…,” the judge wrote in a memorandum in 2009. “Plaintiff is a caring father and actively participated in meeting the child’s daily needs prior to the parties’ separation.”
When Epstein asked for her get after the civil divorce in April 2010, Friedman refused.
This is a particularly difficult case for ORA, since Friedman refuses to mediate in person and instead relies on intermediaries; so far, Rabbi Stern says, Friedman has not responded to proposed changes in the custody agreement. More shockingly, according to Rabbi Stern, Friedman’s representative demanded $1 million or 5 percent of Epstein’s family’s net worth to ensure that she keeps to any new custody conditions.
Friedman’s brother, Menachem, called the claims about the escrow “false.”
“Aharon has acted in good faith and al pi halacha,” Menachem wrote. ”Aharon has been seeking a fair, workable, and sustainable arrangement that will allow him to maintain a real relationship with their daughter, who needs both of her parents in her day-to-day life. Aharon is eager to reach such an agreement at which point — but not before which, as he has been advised by poskim — he would give Tamar a get.”
Epstein said she believes that Friedman is holding on to the get since he’s unable to let go of the marriage.
“It’s very unclear what he’s trying to get from me other than getting back at me,” Epstein said. “I know he has a lot of anger at me for leaving him ... I don’t understand what would justify him not giving a get other than getting back at me.”
A Facebook group in support of Epstein has garnered more than 2,500 members.
Efforts have already begun to pressure Friedman into giving a get through his workplace. Rabbi Herzfelt sent a letter to Friedman’s superior, Jon Traub, at the House Ways and Means Committee.
“It is your ethical and professional responsibility to tell Aharon to give the Get immediately,” Rabbi Herzfelt wrote. “If you do not do that you are indeed complicit in his behavior.”A number of prominent rabbinical figures have already weighed in on the case. Rabbi Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University, ORA’s rabbinical leader, and Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky of the Philadelphia Yeshiva, have both demanded that a get be given.
“I must there again urge anyone who has any connection to Aharon Friedman to attempt to convince him to end her suffering,” Rabbi Kaminetzky wrote in a letter that was distributed by ORA.
Friedman’s brother countered with letters from Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rabbi Ben Dahan, an Israeli court judge, saying that the custody issue should be resolved before the get happens.
Rabbi Stern said that rabbis had been “deceived.” “He pulled the wool over the eyes of Rabbi Ben Dahan and Rabbi Belsky,” Rabbi Stern said. Efforts to reach Rabbi Belsky before The Jewish Star’s deadline were unsuccessful.
Menachem Friedman maintains that the current custody would not enable his brother to see his daughter, given that the time with his daughter begins at 6 p.m. on Friday afternoon.
“If that was the only issue this entire case would have been settled six months ago,” Rabbi Stern said. “Tamar doesn’t violate Shabbos, Aaron doesn’t violate Shabbos — there has never been a violation of Shabbos.”
Epstein maintains that she has already made repeated offers and provided documentations to The Jewish Star.
“I don’t see any evidence of him being genuine about negotiation process,” she said. “I’ve put on the table three different proposals.”
Menachem wrote that “Aharon is committed to giving a get after he and Tamar have agreed on a fair, workable, and sustainable custody arrangement that allows their daughter to have both of her parents involved in her day-to-day life.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, a rabbi in the Baltimore Jewish community, said that he didn’t support Freidman’s not giving his get and was acting “totally improperly.” However, he added that his behavior, is, “the pained and desperate response of a helpless and distraught father to the loss of his only child.”
He also criticized ORA.
“Humiliation tactics are not necessarily the best way to break the impasse.” The Baltimore Beis Din that initially presided over the case has not given an order for Friedman to give a get.
Miriam Colton, a staff member at ORA who is handling the case, says that regardless of the story, the case is a very simple one.
“There’s a he-said and she-said,” Colton explained. “The reality of the situation is that there is a civil divorce, custody went to the court and he’s still refusing to give a get. “
Update 10:45 am CST – The Washington Jewish Week wrote an editorial that makes many of the same points I've made in the comments sections of these posts:
Unchain this woman
Some 300 people rallied outside a Silver Spring apartment complex on Sunday afternoon, trying to shame one of its residents into granting his ex-wife a get, a religious divorce decree.
Tamar Epstein and Aharon Friedman, who have been separated for more than two years, were granted a civil divorce in April. He, however, has refused to give her a religious divorce, leaving her an agunah, a chained woman unable, according to Halacha, Jewish law, to marry again.
Friedman was denied an appeal on custody -- he wanted Epstein and their daughter to live in Maryland, rather than with Epstein's parents in Pennsylvania. Friedman, who is not happy with visitation arrangements with the couple's daughter, is holding Epstein hostage apparently to force renegotiation of visitation issues that were already settled by the civil court. With visitation beginning at 6 p.m. on Fridays, Friedman, according to his supporters, has been unable see his daughter for a good chunk of the year because of his inability to get to her home before the early start of Shabbat.
As sadly in so many divorce cases, there is a lot of he said/she said and attempts at using a get as a weapon to gain advantage elsewhere.
And, of course, by withholding a get, Friedman -- having gone through with a civil divorce ending his marriage -- is unfairly using the one piece of leverage that gives him the upper hand, and for which Epstein has no recourse: denying her the right to remarry Jewishly.
Thus Friedman, rather than acting morally and as a mensch -- as the religious Jew he purports to be -- has cast himself in a poor light and has sought to take advantage of a Jewish legal system that, when it come to divorce, is unquestionably unfair to women.
Friedman's supporters note that technically no beit din, religious court, has issued a definitive ruling on the case, nor ordered Friedman to give Epstein a get. But that technicality doesn't change Friedman's religious obligation to deliver a get to his wife once they are fully separated and all property and custody issues have been resolved, as they have in this case. And the technicality certainly doesn't make it proper for Friedman to attempt to use the get to achieve a result he has lost in the civil court system.
We urge Friedman to give Epstein a get, and to put the unseemly conduct behind him.
To the extent that Friedman has legitimate grounds to challenge current custody arrangements for his young daughter, he is free to bring that challenge to secular or religious court, as he sees fit, and to plead his case.
But withholding a get out of spite, or as leverage to achieve some advantage, is wrong. It is a terrible example for Friedman's young daughter, it is an embarrassment for our community and it should not be tolerated.