Jul 2, 2009 — The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), a program under the auspices of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future that assists disputing couples in resolving their differences and obtaining a timely divorce in accordance with the highest standards of Jewish law, recently resolved its 100th case since its establishment five years ago.
The milestone case offers an insight into the plight of married women denied a get [Jewish divorce] by their husbands. “Rachel,” an anonymous Hasidic woman from Brooklyn, suffered years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, “Meir.” An order of protection was placed against him for fear that he would also turn his violence against their daughter. Before he would even consider granting Rachel the get, he attempted to extort $100,000 from her. With ORA’s intervention, she was granted a get without any payoff.
ORA provides all of its services, from confidential consultations and professional referrals to mediation and engaging neighborhood and community support, completely free of charge. It operates under the guidance of Rabbi Herschel Schachter, rosh yeshiva at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and utilizes an extensive team of attorneys, rabbis, mental health professionals and community volunteers.
In addition to the resolution of its 100th case, ORA still has 72 active cases of agunot or “chained wives” from across the country, Israel and around the world.
These include the case of Tami Tessler, whose husband walked out on her shortly after she gave birth to their daughter. Thirty-two years after seeking a get from her husband, Tessler has been awarded a $202,000 settlement against him from the State of California: $75,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from withholding the get, and $127,000 for enforcement of a foreign court order from Israel, also thanks to ORA.
While Tami is still seeking a get—her case is the oldest of its kind in both the U.S. and Israel—the ruling is unprecedented and a monumental occasion for agunot. In fact, the judgment is indicative of a shift in the civil court system, which is now recognizing the legal ramifications of withholding a get and imposing sharp penalties on those responsible.