Miriam, a former Agunah
I finally got my Get. But I had to pay my ex $40,000. Here is my story of pain and extortion.
I got married at 26 to Dovid, the son of a prominent NY family who owned a large medical supply company. After only a few weeks, the abuse began. He was physically and verbally abusive, and often threw me out of our apartment. At first, my parents pointed to the vast amount of money spent for our wedding and asked me to try to work it out. When the abuse escalated, they recanted and supported my desire to leave. I walked out seven months after I stood with Dovid under the Chuppah. I thought the Get process would be simple, especially considering the fact that he had been divorced before, under similar circumstances. I approached a Rabbi in a well-known Bet Din our community, but Dovid’s family refused to allow that beit din to adjudicate the divorce. They kept refusing to show up to any Bet Din proceedings.
I had reason to be worried. I found out that the ex wife had been sworn to secrecy in exchange for her Get and had not disclosed to us about his mental health issues. Dovid’s mother had told me that if I wanted a Get, I would have to “Pay for it or I could wait until I was post-menopausal.” I was confused as this was a wealthy family and they knew my parents had no financial means. Where did they think I would get money to ransom myself from this man?
After months of threats and stonewalling on their part, I was put in touch with a bonafide writer for a NY Jewish newspaper and an Agunah activist. She wrote a story about me and the family was told that if they did not agree to arbitration, the story would be published. The family was very concerned about their reputation and immediately agreed to allow the divorce to be adjudicated by means of a Beit Din established by a Zabla, a three-member rabbinic panel in which one rabbinic judge, is chosen by the wife; one is chosen by the husband, and the third is chosen jointly. Since I was pushing for the divorce, I was responsible for paying the fees charged both my Rav and the joint Rav. They each charged $250 per hour. The first meeting was arranged and it soon became clear that dragging it out for hours meant that more money could be made by all. At the end of a long day, in which all three Rabbis took breaks for davening, meals, phone calls, and talking, my bill was nearly a whopping $10,000. They came to no conclusion and told me they needed another meeting.
I later realized that I did not only lose a lot of money that day. My Rav told me that I should just say yes to everything they accused me of and keep repeating that I simply want my Get. They said I was a whore, a bad wife, “proving” their accusations with pictures from our honeymoon in which I was wearing a bathing suit. They were speaking quickly in Yiddish and I did not understand what they were saying. I just kept nodding and saying that I just wanted my Get. The Rabbis agreed that I “admitted” to being a “Moredet,” a woman who has not fulfilled her duties as a wife. Because I incriminated myself, my Rav then told me that I would have to pay a large sum of money to settle the divorce out of court.
The negotiations began at $30,000, but when I agreed, the sum escalated to $50,000, then $80,000, then $100,000. We realized there would be no end. So we gave up negotiations and tried to hire another Rabbi. This new Rabbi threatened Dovid that he would convene a Bet Din and annul my marriage through a process called “Mekach Taut.” Dovid called his bluff, knowing that there was not a Bet Din who would be willing to do that. In the end, a cousin finally pressured the family to renegotiate. He threatened to make their lives miserable, and tell everyone of his issues. He followed them upstate to their vacation home and continued to harass them. They broke after another month of negotations and agreed to take $40,000 in exchange for the Get. They demanded that we paid in cash and gave us 24 hours to come up with the money.
I was at their mercy. I begged and borrowed and paid for my Get. It was a ransom. I redeemed myself. After suffering for almost a year and not being in control of my own fate, I was crippled. I belonged to someone else. I knew that this would be money well spent and I have never looked back.