Jofa Statement on New Jersey Legal Decision Supporting Agunah’s Free Speech

Jofa Statement on New Jersey Legal Decision Supporting Agunah’s Free Speech

September 6, 2023

Background: Several organizations participated as friends-of-the-court. The ACLU of New Jersey, the ACLU, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Sanctuary for Families, and Unchained at Last filed a brief to affirm that the state and federal constitutions protect speech by a person experiencing abuse and seeking her community’s support. The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot and the Shalom Task Force filed a brief explaining the social and cultural context of “get” refusal in Orthodox Jewish communities and the ramifications of silencing a person in that situation while they are asking for help.

In response to the New Jersey Appellate Court decision in the case of S.B.B. v. L.B.B. in favor of an unnamed woman who was previously ordered to stop communicating about her gett (religious divorce) including asking her community for help, Jofa (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) issued the following statement: 

We are thrilled to read today’s decision by the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division in S.B.B. v. L.B.B., affirming the constitutionally protected free speech of a woman who created and disseminated a video accusing her estranged husband of improperly withholding a get, a Jewish bill of divorce, and asking community members to “press” her husband to deliver it. Jofa joined an amicus brief that reflects some of the same arguments that the Appellate Division adopted.

Furthermore, this decision counters previous decisions by the trial court in this case that have been grounded in antisemitic assumptions and tropes portraying Jewish people as having disproportionate power and control within the legal system – a notion that is not based in reality. 

Jofa is committed to strengthening women’s rights within the framework of Jewish law, to build a vibrant and equitable Orthodox community. In situations like this, in which men – including the recalcitrant husband and complicit rabbis – hold most of the control, the woman’s ability to advocate for herself and speak freely, openly, and publicly about her case must remain protected, because it is among the only tools at her disposal.  The Appellate Division’s decision affirms this.

This decision once again brings to light the plight of the agunah, the woman “chained” by her husband’s refusal to grant her a get. Too many rabbis have tepid reactions to what amounts to making a mockery of Jewish law by disregarding women’s lives and freedom. This case presents us with yet another moment to hold a recalcitrant husband accountable;  to mobilize action on behalf of chained women, and to take the necessary steps to address the agunah problem in a comprehensive manner. The failure to institute a permanent and systemic (i.e., halakhic) solution to the agunah crisis is a moral failure of our rabbinic leaders that must be urgently addressed.

Make no mistake, get refusal is abusive behavior. When one party holds up the divorce process out of vindictiveness, it violates deeply rooted Jewish values of sanctifying God’s precious name and honoring one another. Therefore, we reaffirm our call for our rabbinic leadership to stop enabling abusers, and to enact a systemic solution to end a crisis that has continued far too long. In addition, we hope that the legal precedent set by this decision will serve to buttress justice and fairness in the American judicial system.

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