Agunah Cases in the Age of Facebook
02/28/2012 - 08:02
Rabbi Jason Miller
Rep. Dave Camp had to close the comments section of his Facebook page due to protests over his staffer's refusal to grant a get
Rep. Dave Camp had to close the comments section of his Facebook page due to protests over his staffer's refusal to grant a get
Cross-posted to Blog.RabbiJason.com

United States Representative Dave Camp is a proud Roman Catholic. The Republican congressman represents Michigan's 4th District in Congress which includes places in Michigan's "Up North" region that Jews only visit for a few days each year. Aside from the handful of families who live in Traverse City year round, Dave Camp likely doesn't give much thought to Jewish people.

Dave Camp's Wikipedia entry boasts his many legislative accomplishments in Congress including taking over from fellow Michigan representative Sander Levin as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. The last few lines of his Wikipedia entry however make up an odd footnote for a Roman Catholic congressman from Northern Michigan: "Congressman Camp has been criticized for dismissing charges against a staffer of his, Aharon Friedman, as 'gossip.' Friedman had been formally charged with contempt of proceedings by the Rabbinical Council of America for refusing to give his wife, Tamar Epstein, a Jewish divorce."

If it weren't for Dave Camp's Orthodox Jewish staff member, he would likely never even know about the Jewish legal concepts of a Jewish bill of divorce ("get"), a recalcitrant husband ("mesorevet get") or a chained woman ("agunah"). But that is precisely what is occupying a lot of his time right now even though he would rather be focused on other matters, including today's Republican primary in Michigan.

I first wrote about this case in January 2011, just one day before Dave Camp took over the House Ways and Means Committee from Sandy Levin. The story didn't get much attention then. However, a full scale social media attack has been waged recently to compel Rep. Dave Camp to force Aharon Friedman to give his ex-wife a get. This will be the first major agunah case in which social media plays a fundamental role.

Aharon Friedman and Tamar Epstein

As the barrage of comments were posted on Dave Camp's official Facebook page urging his cooperation in this agunah case, he quickly ordered his staff to disable public comment posting on the page. An article in Politico yesterday explains why this is a tricky matter for the congressman as religion and politics collide in the public sphere:

Friedman, a tax counsel for Camp who has worked for the Michigan Republican since 2007, must consent to the get in order for his ex-wife, Tamar Epstein, to remarry, have additional children or even for her to wear her hair uncovered as unmarried Orthodox Jewish women are permitted to do. Friedman’s detractors charge that his behavior amounts to “domestic abuse.” 

The couple have engaged in a bitter custody battle over their daughter. After the failure of years of quiet efforts in the Jewish community — including a nonbinding request from D.C.’s rabbinical court for Friedman to consent to the get and a national rabbinical court’s “declaration of contempt” against him — Epstein’s supporters have increasingly turned to more public methods, including openly pressuring the congressman to intervene.

The situation is awkward for Camp because it is rare that the personal lives of congressional staffers become political issues for members of Congress. But the influential committee chairman is being dragged into the highly unusual situation now that Friedman’s opponents have decided to thrust it into the public sphere.

A petition calling on Rep. Camp to strongly urge Friedman to comply and grant his ex-wife a get has already been signed by over 1,500 people. It reads, "By refusing to condemn Friedman, in fact, dismissing criticism of Friedman's behavior as "gossip", Dave Camp is by default supporting abusive behavior. We aren’t asking Dave Camp to fire Aharon Friedman. All we want is for Camp to require that Friedman stop abusing his wife. It is a pity to be known as the congressman who employs and encourages abuse of women."

The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot urged concerned activists to post a message on Dave Camp's Facebook page every day until Passover, but now that the public comment feature has been turned off on the representative's Facebook page, the protesters will have to use other means. Some Jewish bloggers, including Frum Satire, have used their Web soap boxes to publicize this travesty. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the rabbi of the Orthodox synagogue Ohev Sholom, first wrote about this story in late 2010 and has made this cause a top priority. He told Politico that he will go further than the online campaign and intends to write a letter of complaint to the House Ethics Committee.

This might be the first example of how social media can help get a recalcitrant husband to end the marital legal war and present his wife with a get, but it likely will not be the last. Prior to the immense growth in popularity of social networking sites, recalcitrant husbands were compelled to give a get through ads in local Jewish newspapers and boycotts of their business. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social media will be the weapon of choice in future agunah cases.

Rep. Dave Camp can bar the public from posting on his Facebook page, but as Rick Santorum can attest there is no way to close off the Web from negative publicity. Dave Camp has to decide now if he wants future Google searches of his name to result in articles about his work in Congress or about his tax counsel's personal marital conflict. The choice is his.

​Rabbi Jason Miller is a Rabbi Without Borders who blogs about the intersection of Judaism and technology. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiJason and on his Facebook page. He is president of Access Computer Technology, an IT and social media consultancy firm in Michigan.

Comments

What prevent a simple solution in the US is the separation of state and church.
According to Jewish rabbinical law "Kofim Har K-gigit" over the "Mesarev" In other words, he can be forced by different means to give the "Get". In Israel it can even lead to incarceration. No go in the US. So the wife is found in limbo, maybe for the rest of her life. When Ms. Epstein will understand that faith has nothing to do with fanaticism and that "Baruch Hu She-lo Bra-ani Isha," Bless he who did not make me a woman, is totally false, her troubles will be over. Tamar, just get a civil divorce and get on with your life. Dave camp is the wrong address and will not help you. He simply cannot and most probably doesn’t want. Good luck.

The situation is ridiculous and the Rabbinic authorities are handling the matter wrongly. It is first and foremost a travesty to involve and threaten the social standing of uninvolved individuals in the effort to force the recalcitrant husband to issue the get. The Bet Din should simply declare that the get is dejure effected by means of dina de malchutah dina, that the law of the land is the law: Once the State issues a divorce, that is what must be enforced by the Bet Din. Period. If a civil marriage is recognized, then a civil divorce must be recognized. A contract that is recognized requires that the dissolution be recognized if by the same authority.

This is a religious affair and should be kept outside the political sphere. Rep. Camp should not waste any of his time on religious fanatics with their heads firmly jammed in the Bronze Age. If the Jews cannot keep this nonsense to themselves, our representatives certainly have no business intervening in any way.

The Jews are merely irritated because they can't make rabbinical decisions stick. We are a secular country, and the contortions of the religious fanatics and their "holy" scriptures is wholly their private business - indeed, it has been a long time since clergy of any stripe could pass enforceable judgments. I suggest the way to resolve this get-conundrum is by prayer - long, insistent prayer to whatever agency the religious fanatics believe runs their lives. Isn't that what they always keep telling us, that prayer works? Here is a perfect case for the fanatics to put their money where their mouths are - a perfect test of the efficiency of the "divine" entity to whom the religious nuts seem to have devoted their lives.

But if it doesn't work, if "God" isn't listening or doesn't care, then the religious fanatics should feel free to appeal to lesser powers. Facebook and Twitter are good places to try. Only try to keep from wasting the public's time and money. No one other than religious fanatics care about your gets, your agunahs, and your other self-inflicted torments.

It seems to me the civil divorce is not yet finalized because otherwise there would have been a settlement on custody. And what about all the men who give their wives gets and then the wife does everything she prevent her husband from seeing their children or use the courts to extract high alimony payments?

irrelevant to the issue at hand

It's really simple. Marriage should be an equal union which either party can dissolve. Anything else is just wrong. Religion should not be an excuse for medieval practices in the 21st century, and civil societies must not tolerate such.

Those urging Rep. Camp to pressure Mr. Friedman to give the Get or be fired are probably barking up the wrong tree. Roman Catholics do not believe in divorce.

I believe that the entire travesty of an employer being asked to intervene in an employee's private life is false, and, in this case, borders dangerously on violating the separation of church and state. Some years ago, a courageous Orthodox rabbi found a Talmudic means of nullifying marriages which had gone sour, and in which an agunah situation resulted. He was freeing agunote, until a group of more machmir/stringent rabbis shut him down. The Orthodox rabbinate had better deal with this busha b'farhesya (public shame) halachically, and soon, because the problem will never go away.

Note Mr Feldman has no Jewish legal requirement to give a a ghet at this point.
Facts in the story presented have not been presented in their entirety.
Ghet is a Jewish legal process that Mrs. Feldman chose to step out of and create her own rules.
The Beit Din that ordered a ghet is actualy one connected to her family in various ways which in any case would invalidate its involvement.

Woman have all these organizations to help them.
Are there any to help men?
Women are permitted to refuse a ghet.

Generally, Orthodox Jewish women may not wear their hair uncovered once they have married, even if they are divorced or widowed (not as stated in the article).

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