A "get" is a Jewish divorce. A woman who fails to obtain a get is unable to marry again under Jewish law. These women are "agunot." There are more of them out there than you think, and a Chicago filmmaker has tackled the subject in "Women Unchained," a documentary making its way into theaters this month.
Leta Lenik, the documentarian, says the film focuses on five women trying to obtain gets whose husbands demand payment before they'll grant the get. Lenik calls it "get extortion," and says the husbands often have the tacit support of the rabbis. Of the five women profiled, four obtain their gets.
One agunot who is 40 said it took a year and a half for her parents to make a deal with her husband. She says her now ex-husband dragged out the negotiations by making exorbitant financial demands. The year and a half she waited was the blink of an eye compared to others' experiences.
One organization that supports and advocates for agunot estimates there are hundreds in the United States. They are willing to wait; if they remarry without the get, their children will be prohibited from marrying another Jew. Even women who aren't observant will ask for a get to keep a child from being a manzer. "A manzer status could affect a child who becomes observant," says Lenik's co-documentarian.
The film supplements the agunots' stories with interviews of rabbis. Lenik said no husband was willing to talk to her.
For tackling such a traditional subject, though, Lenik says the film takes a modern approach. She also says the film looks for solutions -- there must be something, she says, within the bounds of Jewish law, that can change this dynamic.
One solution Lenik recommends is a halachically valid prenuptial agreement -- that is, a pre-nup in accord with traditional Jewish law -- that is enforceable in civil court. Lenik says it's important for both parties, and for their children.
Overall, though, the problem of get extortion won't be solved by rabbis. It will be solved, Lenik says, "by Jews putting pressure on the rabbis."
Source: The Jewish Week, "Unchain My Heart: Get Film Seeks Solutions," Steve Lipman, 03/22/11