Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Rep. Dave Camp Should Force Staffer to Grant Ex-Wife a Jewish Divorce

On the final day of the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, thousands of conference attendees descend on Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress on issues important to the State of Israel. A few years ago I joined other pro-Israel Michiganders and lobbied Representative Dave Camp. The congressman wasn't available to meet with us and left an ill-prepared staffer to answer our questions and try to assure us of his boss's support of the Jewish State. Since Dave Camp represents the 4th Congressional District of Michigan (an area pretty far north of where I live), I didn't think I'd find myself lobbying him on any other issues in the future. And I surely never thought I'd lobby him on the issue of an agunah -- the case of a Jewish woman whose ex-husband refuses to grant her a get (a Jewish bill of divorce).

Rep. Dave Camp becomes the chairman of House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow taking over from Rep. Sandy Levin, and The New York Times reports that there is already controversy surrounding his office. Aharon Friedman, a 34-year-old tax counsel for the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee is an Orthodox Jew who is refusing to give his wife, Tamar Epstein, 27, a get.

The NY Times says that Friedman "finds himself scrutinized in the Jewish press, condemned by important rabbis, and attacked in a YouTube video showing about 200 people protesting outside his Silver Spring, Md., apartment on Dec. 19...The Friedman case has become emblematic of a torturous issue in which only a husband can 'give' a get. While Jewish communities have historically pressured obstinate husbands to give gets, this was a very rare case of seeking to shame the husband in the secular world."

One rabbi wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee asking that he lean on Aharon Friedman to grant the Jewish divorce. The couple has been civilly divorced since April and share custody of their daughter, but they are still married according to Jewish law. Without the get neither one of them is permitted to remarry within the faith. Tamar Friedman is considered an agunah, or chained woman until Aharon presents her with a get.

I implore Representative Dave Camp to compel Aharon Friedman, his staff member, to do the ethical thing and grant his wife a Jewish bill of divorce. I'm sure that Rep. Camp wants everyone who works with him to be of moral character. On his first day as the chairman of this important committee tomorrow, I hope Dave Camp will take Aharon Goldstein aside and tell him what he needs to do to "right this wrong." This matter has nothing to do with the Committee on Ways and Means or the 4th District of Michigan, but it has a lot to do with character and hopefully the leadership of the 112th Congress will make that a top priority.

As Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld told The New York Times, “I don’t think the Messiah can come, as long as there is one agunah in the world.”


Amber said...

Good luck. I'm not sure Camp has a very good record where women's issues are concerned.

Anonymous said...

Of course his job should be put into jeopardy but perish the thought that the custody arrangement's Shabbat limitation to Philadelphia is her doing. She is trying to sever his relationship with his daughter and he is fighting back. He is not asking for her money and he is not asking for their daughte rto be taken away from her. He wants a sustainable relationship with her. If that doens't strike you as so bad then recognize the way to the get as well as fair custody is to rearrange the custody agreement. Trying to get Aharon fired will end up making the situation worse - including for the daughter - and not better.

Rabbi Charles Arian said...

I think it would be fine if Rep. Camp pulled his staff member over and urged him to be a mensch. I don't think it's a good idea to bombard his office with letter or phone calls or e-mails, and I don't think it's a good idea for Camp to do more than put in a good word.

I think it first of all skirts close to a church-state violation. Yes, I know that "we" claim that there is nothing religious about a get, that it is purely a civil/monetary matter that has nothing to do with actual beliefs, etc. But it's still excessive entanglement.

Second, if the staff member did give his wife a get because his boss threatened to fire him if he didn't, an Orthodox bet din (which presumably is the only type that matters here) could consider it a get me'useh and thus invalid.

Sarah Chinn Jones said...

That's really interesting! I didn't know a Jewish woman had to have a get.

Susan Bonowitz said...

He needs a good old fashioned beat down! And shame on her attorney for not adding something to her civil divorce compelling him to comply with giving a get (that's how I had to do it).

Unknown said...

It is unlikely that the staffer will be forced to give a get by his employer without pressure from outsiders. This is a technical issue of Jewish halacha which may not be understood by the Congressman. There should be an organized campaign in this matter so that the staffer will have no choice but to grant the get or leave his job. Since Orthodox rabbis have been leaning on recalcitrant husbands to give gets when they refuse to do so, it is highly unlikely that this type of get would be voided. On the other hand, it might be interesting to know why this man refuses to give a get. Perhaps there is more to the story.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, it's Aharon *Friedman*, not Aharon *Goldstein*, as you have it in the last paragraphs.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...


In all fairness, there is more to the story. The husband believes the custody deal is unfair because he can't see his daughter until Sunday unless he violated Shabbat.

This is stated in the NY Times article I reference and link to. However, I don't believe it's fair to use a get as ammunition in a custody matter. He should give her the get and they should agree on a custody arrangement to which both parties are amenable.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Thanks for the correction. I was blogging quickly and know an Aharon Goldstein (lehavdil).

Weston said...

While I feel very strongly that the staff member should give the get, I am vehemently opposed to any efforts to convince his boss to (in any manner) attempt to compel him to sign the get.

It is a personal and religious issue of the employee. His job duties and his boss have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Would you feel the same if the staff member was a Jew and the Congressman was being pressured by members of the Catholic Church to compel her not to divorce her Catholic husband because the church won't recognize it?

I would feel this way even if it was a private employer but I consider it especially crucial considering that we are talking about public employees.

My personal and religious beliefs, issues and problems are none of my employers damn business unless they legitimately impact on my ability to do my job.

DRB said...

Lots of people think they get a raw deal in court (in fact, I would estimate the number is close to 50% in civil cases). The courts ruled on custody, now suck it up and deal - stop using the get as blackmail.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this case IS all about the money.
She comes from a very wealthy, and very well-connected family in Philadelphia.
She left him, and took their child out of state against his wishes, and violated a court order to return her to Maryland. She then filed for the divorce.

Her family has effectively "bought" the support of the Rabbis in the Philly area, as well as the ORA propaganda organization. The are spewing incorrect and misleading information, for the sole purpose of dragging Aharon through the mud.
Their goal is to destroy whatever he has left.
Too many people hear the word "Agunah," and just jump on the bandwagon, without finding out the facts. If they knew that she kidnapped their daughter, and that she is doing everything she can to destroy the relationship between a father and his 3-year-old daughter, do you think she would still get the same communal support?

DRB said...

to the most recent anonymous commenter (and can you all please use nicknames other than 'anonymous'? it's confusing). You claim this is about money and the ex-wife "bought" the support of various people. Do you have any support for your allegations? It's easy to make ad-hominem attacks. Please back up your statements with some facts.

For some reason the fact that she has money means it's okay to blackmail and steal from her. Since when does that fact that she has money give him the right to extort from her?

read this article - he demanded a million dollars for the get.

ParrotSquawk said...

I don't know the details about the divorce (although I have first-hand experience that they can be messy and never-ending!)

On matters I know nothing about:
If it's about money, that's a shame. If it's about custody, it's a moral mark on both their souls.
If it's using one to gain the other, lock them both up.

On to some facts I can assume (remembering that I am neither a Rabbi nor a legal scholar:)
A ketubah is a contract. It (typically) requires the husband grant the 'get' (IIRC) and if he refuses to grant the 'get' she can petition a Bet Din to grant one sua sponte (a Latin term of law meaning "of their own accord" which describes an act of authority taken without formal prompting from another party - in this case the husband.) It is the Bet Din that grants the get in accordance with the terms of ketubah.

Finally, on to the matte of pressuring someone's boss into talking to an employee on a private issue. Pointing out the issue to Rep. Camp is as far as anyone should go. No one should threaten him with anything for any (in)action on his part.

Just my 2 NIS

Kol Tov

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Perfectly said ParrotSquawk

Rabbi Charles Arian said...


In Orthodox practice the Bet Din cannot grant the get sua sponte. The Biblical verse is "he shall write her a bill of divorcement" with the emphasis on "HE" shall write her. If he will not do so, then no divorce is possible.

The Conservative movement has a slightly different approach. While the Bet Din cannot give a get per se, since only the husband can do that, in a case where the husband withholds the get they can invalidate the marriage retroactively using the same reasoning as you advocate. This is a serious step that only the official court of JTS and the Rabbinical Assembly can perform, not a local rabbi. But since this couple is presumably Orthodox, such action as not available to them. The wife could of course choose to avail herself of this option but one presumes this is not acceptable to her religious beliefs.

The late great Orthodox rabbi Emanuel Rackman had a court which would also invalidate marriages in such a situation. But his actions were, to put it mildly, not considered generally acceptable in the larger Orthodox world.

Anonymous said...

As someone who gave the get and is now suffering from not seeing my children I totally simpathize with Aharon. His wife has effectively cut off any normal familial relationship that he has with his child. This is just as intolerable as withholding a get is. Where are the protesters outside of the court house where the judge presides? Why is the desire to have a normal relationship with your children wrong? He has not said that he will not give a get. What he has said is that he will give a get when perfectly reasonable conditions are met. No money is being asked for, no real estate or any other property. Aharon is simply holding out with the only means available to him to be able to see his children without violating Shabbos. Who is violating Halacha here?

Stacey said...

This sounds like so much "he said" and "she said". If the two parties involved cannot reason together like the adults they are, the one who most stands to suffer is the child. It's sad, this dynamic crosses all boundaries of faith, nation and economics, doesn't it? Isn't there a reasonable party who can intercede on behalf of what IS right instead of HIS RIGHTS or HER RIGHTS?

AAS said...

"Anonymous" is a coward so his posts have no credibility. Regarded all the back and forth chatter, the ex wife has done everything asked of her to to accommodate her ex husbands desire for visitation. It is absolutely false that she is depriving him from his daughter.

TMink said...

This is a private matter and likely drama. The woman is being portrayed as the "victim" and the man as the "perpetrator" and people are pressuring the "perpetrator's" employer to intrude on a private matter.

This is the way the Palestinians act.

What about the harm the woman is doing to their child by taking her from her father? The statistics on fatherless children are staggering and chilling, but that does not fit the dramatic narrative, so it is not mentioned.


boca raton divorce lawyer said...

Interesting post regarding divorce. Though I doubt that Rep. Dave Camp's wish will be granted. I sure hope not.

Unknown said...

FROM: Rabbi Benyamin Yosef

Be very careful about using the Beth Din of America for your GET or other religious issue. Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann and Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz both have seruv’s (contempt’s) issued against them. Prior judges on this court have had a multitude of problems. This court issues more seruv’s than any other Beth Din. Read more about it at www.thebethdin.com. Too many Beth Dins are corrupt and dishonest. Any Beth Din that issues bogus seruv’s for money or due to feminist pressure must be disbanded.

Anonymous said...

Please keep your religion and a foreign nation, both of whose religion is based on blood sacrifice, out of my United States government. IF anything, go to that Lithuanian Khazar blood luster over your precious "Israel" (of stolen land soaked in that blood you so lust for (even above your doors) and let him "lean on" your fellow tribal member.

Blood sacrifice in modern times.....Neanderthal DNA alive and well. It's well past time for the "tribe" to evolve.