D.C. divorce bill will aid Jews


A bill being debated in the Washington, D.C., city council targets men who refuse to grant a Jewish divorce, sending them to civil court for preventing their former wives from remarrying.

The Justice for Ex-Spouses Act was introduced by Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser in December. The bill has been sent to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, but a hearing date has not yet been scheduled.

The bill, which was co-introduced by three other council members, does not only apply to Jewish divorce, known as a get. Its aim is to “provide justice to ex-spouses whose ability to remarry is interfered with” by malicious conduct, according to a press release from Bowser.

“We must protect the freedom and ability of ex-spouses to remarry from unjustifiable interference,” Bowser said, adding, that the “bill empowers women in our city to prevent further harassment.”


Under the proposed law, if one member of a divorced couple maliciously interferes with the other’s ability to remarry, a civil cause of action could be brought against the offending member.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom -The National Synagogue and attorney Nathan Lewin were influential in having the issue of Jewish divorce added to the bill.

“I think it’s a very important bill to a lot of women, potentially men also,” said Herzfeld.

The rabbi said he contacted many experts to make sure the bill did not run afoul of separation of church-and-state issues. All the bill says is if a person from an already-divorced couple places obstacles in the other person’s attempt to remarry, that person could be brought to a civil court, he explained.

“We need to do everything in our power to help protect women who are being abused mentally and emotionally by their ex-spouses,” Herzfeld said in a press release at the time of the bill’s introduction Dec. 17. “Withholding a get for malicious reasons is a form of this despicable abuse and is a human rights issue. I salute the DC Council and Councilmember Muriel Bowser for taking a courageous stand on this issue.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington has not taken a stand on this bill as it awaits comment from the Orthodox Union, which currently is reviewing the bill, explained JCRC executive director Ron Halber.

“The JCRC has a very long, strong and proud history of advocating for issues for women,” he said.

Other states, including Maryland, have attempted and failed at adding the Jewish issue of divorce into their laws. But those cases were different, stated Herzfeld.

The Maryland state Senate in 2007 failed to pass a law stating that each spouse be able to ask the other for an affidavit attesting that any barriers to the other’s ability to remarry had been removed. It would have helped prevent a Jewish man from using the get as a bargaining chip and was supported by the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel, the Vaads of Baltimore and Greater Washington, the Maryland Jewish Alliance and the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse.

The concept of a get has been in the news here for many years following the 2010 civil divorce of Tamar Epstein and Aharon Friedman, who lived in Silver Spring while married. Epstein has since moved with the couple’s child to the Philadelphia suburbs.

Friedman has refused to give his ex-wife a get despite being picketed at his home and place of work; having letters sent to his boss, U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.); and being considered a pariah by the Orthodox community, which has been told not to speak with him or welcome him into its synagogues.

The couple’s dispute took a turn recently when the Organization for the Resolution of the Agunot declared Epstein free to remarry, although Friedman still has not granted a get.

According to several sources, Epstein considers herself unchained under the concept of mekach taus, which means she was married under erroneous circumstances. While this concept usually is applied when a husband turns out to be impotent or gay, in this case it is believed that Epstein is saying that her marriage was a mistaken transaction as she wouldn’t have entered into the marriage if she knew that Friedman would have withheld a get.

Epstein’s attorney and representatives at ORA, both of whom have made numerous statements in the past, have been tight-lipped about the details of why they now consider Epstein a free woman who can remarry.

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