Aharon Friedman is refusing to give his ex-wife Tamar Epstein a Jewish divorce called a get. Without a get a religious Jewish woman cannot remarry and is known as an agunah, a chained woman. This is despite the fact that [in the case of Aharon and Tamar] financial matters and custody issues have already been settled in the secular courts. He is thus inflicting great emotional abuse upon her. Yet, Friedman still retains one position of great honor and power which the rabbis cannot touch -- senior advisor to Congressman Dave Camp (R), Chairman of Ways and Means Committee.
Aharon Friedman Withholding Get: Should Congressman Dave Camp Care?
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld • Huffington Post
Aharon Friedman is refusing to give his ex-wife Tamar Epstein a Jewish divorce called a get. Without a get a religious Jewish woman cannot remarry and is known as an agunah, a chained woman. This is despite the fact that [in the case of Aharon and Tamar] financial matters and custody issues have already been settled in the secular courts. He is thus inflicting great emotional abuse upon her.
The Jewish community recognizes this and great rabbis have signed a contempt order encouraging people to shun him. The rabbi of the synagogue at which he and Tamar worshipped has now urged congregants to avoid him and made clear that he is not to be given any honors in the synagogue.
Yet, Friedman still retains one position of great honor and power which the rabbis cannot touch -- senior advisor to Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of Ways and Means Committee.
Camp's office has rebuffed attempts by the Jewish community for him to urge Aharon Friedman to give a get.
Camp's office has said that this is an internal religious matter in which they do not want to get involved. The argument is as follows: It would be wrong for Camp to tell Friedman not to eat a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur, and so too, it is wrong for him to advise Friedman to give a get.
The difference here is that Friedman's behavior is damaging and causing injury to another person. It has been recognized by the secular courts as emotional domestic abuse.
Furthermore, the fact that Friedman's offensive behavior is religious should not make him immune to criticism from his boss. For example, Reverend Fred Phelps is engaged in the deeply offensive religious practice of protesting at military funerals in the name of God and he is criticized by many for this religious behavior. The fact that a practice is called religious does not inoculate it. If it is causing pain to people it should be harshly criticized.
And so Camp continues to receive counsel from Friedman on important policy matters. Indeed, more than one person has told me that Friedman is a powerful and respected person in Camp's office.
Moreover, there is even room for debate as to whether or not it is a religious matter or a matter of simple right and wrong that the secular world has an interest in.
There is precedent for both the secular courts and elected officials to care deeply about the get.
Secular courts have concluded that a get is a civil matter that is capable of a secular court's review. In Minkin v. Minkin, 180 N.J. Super. 260 (1981), the court said: "The get, which has no reference to God but which does affect the relationship between the two parties, falls into the latter category and is, therefore, civil and not religious in nature."
And secular courts have spoken out strongly against husbands withholding a get from their wives. Even though the actual ruling was later vacated on other grounds, it is significant to note the court's words in the following case:
Giahn v. Giahn, 223 N.Y.L.J. 25 (2000) vacated by Giahn v. Giahn, 290 A.D.2d 483 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. 2002).
"The State of New York has made painfully clear that it will not tolerate perversion of the Jewish Get process into an unconscionable instrument of coercion by husbands who have the sole power to cause delivery thereof, a situation putting wives at the mercy of unscrupulous, often sadistic husbands."
"It also hopefully sends word out to unscrupulous husbands who torture their former wives in this manner that the courts have reached zero tolerance for this sadistic practice."
And finally, state legislatures and elected official have spoken out against husbands withholding gets from their wives.
Here are the words of New York's Governor Mario Cuomo's Memorandum Approving New York Dom. Rel. Law § 253, also known as the New York Get Law:
"The bill was overwhelmingly adopted by the State legislature because it deals with a tragically unfair condition that is almost universally acknowledged....The requirement of a Get is used by unscrupulous spouses who avail themselves of our Civil Courts and simultaneously use their denial of a Get vindictively or as a form of economic coercion."
Governor Cuomo's words represent the voice of moral clarity about this issue. They indicate that just because the matter is of a religious nature it does not give the right to elected officials to avoid their responsibility on the matter.
I don't think Governor Cuomo would ever have tolerated Aharon Friedman's behavior in his office. Dave Camp and the Republican House leadership need some moral guidance on this issue.
First of all, when commenting on this issue please accept the facts of the Friedman-Epstein dispute as accurate. If you Friedman is the wronged party in this case, state that very briefly – one to three lines at most.
Focus instead on the constitutional issue and the moral issue: If a man withholds a get from his wife, and if a beit din (Jewish religious court) rules against the man and puts him in cherem (excommunicates him), and if major rabbis support that beit din ruling, is a non-Jewish employer obligated morally to fire the man? Does he have any legal obligation to do so? If the employer is the government or a government official, does that change the case?
I think Congressman Camp should fire Friedman on moral grounds.
If Friedman was beating his wife and refused to get help or follow a ruling of a beit din to stay away from his wife, I think almost everyone would agree that Camp should fire him.
What Friedman is doing is a type of spousal abuse that keeps his wife from remarrying and from having sex with another man. That means Tamar Epstein must remain celibate until that get is granted or her husband dies – even if it takes decades. This is physical abuse. It is also emotional abuse because it dooms Tamar to a life of loneliness.
But we don't have a chief rabbi or a true national beit din, so the community does not speak with one voice about this case (or about any other).
And even if we did have a national beit din and a chief rabbi, why should anyone who is not a part of the Jewish community have any responsibility to follow any of its rulings?
If Tamar were Camp's employee and a beit din ruled that she should not receive a get, would Herzfeld or anyone else seriously argue that Tamar should be fired if she got a civil divorce and remarried civilly? Or if she moved in with a man and slept with him?
Expand this to Sharia law or Church canon law.
Should bad or lapsed Catholics be fired because they've rejected or ignored specific Church teachings?
Should Sharia's view of women be upheld and used as grounds to fire a Muslim woman who won't follow Sharia law?
Any religious component here is exceedingly dangerous.
I think the decision to hire or fire an employee who violates his religion's laws in a way that hurts another person who follows those laws must be a moral one, meaning it must be made by the individual employer based on his own morality or its lack.
Now here's another question.
Could Camp be successfully sued if he fires Friedman for violating Jewish law?
I think the answer is yes, because religious law has no place or standing under our Constitution.
But I do think Camp could fire Friedman on civil grounds.
Any marriage officiated by clergy is recognized by states only because states make clergy their designated representative – if the laws of the state relating to marriage are followed.
So the rabbi who married Friedman and Epstein did so as an agent of the state.
Therefore, the state has a vested interest in that marriage – and in its dissolution.
Since being married according to the "Laws of Moses and Israel" can only legally happen if the state allows it – for example, the Torah allows a man to marry his niece but civil law does not. If a rabbi officiated at a wedding of a man to his niece, the marriage would not be recognized by the state as valid, and the rabbi will have broken a law.
Therefore it could be argued that when a marriage needs to be dissolved, and the process of that dissolution in religious court unduly injures one of the two parties in a manner that rises to a form of spousal abuse or extortion, the state gains a stake in that process and could prosecute the recalcitrant party for that abuse or extortion.
But that would have toi be done no matter what a beit din ruled, meaning if the beit din compelled the wife to remain in the home with her husband, but the wife leaves and demands divorce, after a certain period of time the husband's refusal to grant that divorce would rise to the level of spousal abuse or extortion, and the state would then prosecute the husband.
I doubt Rabbi Herzfeld would support that, because the outcome – a religious divorce given to the woman – would be in defiance of the beit din and in violation of Jewish law.
Civil law must look at the civil crimes committed – not at the religious law that may be used to commit them.
That's a long way of saying two things.
Number one, I think the New York State get law mention by Herzfeld may be unconstituional as written.
As Far as I know, it has not yet been tested in the courts.
Number two, Camp should suspend Friedman without pay until he stops extorting his wife.
That's what I think he should do morally.
But I don't think he has or should have any legal obligation to do so unless and until the state Friedman and Epstein were married in (I believe this was Pennsylvania) or the federal government starts charging and convicting recalcitrant husbands for the extortion and spousal abuse that comes from withholding a get.
And so far, that has not happened.