Childless by religious conviction ?

Thank goodness DH is a computer genius … we’ve had some major issues getting my computer to work properly lately.  I need to find all of my RSS feeds etc. again, and I will incommunicado next week – so please forgive me if I fall off the planet a bit until September.

This morning I heard a radio documentary that has been with me the rest of the day.  It is the story of how a bit of civil law and religious law interact in Canada, told through the story of Stephanie.  Stephanie and her husband divorced through civil law, but in Jewish law her husband had to offer her a release from the barrier of remarrying (and thus having children in the faith).  It was explained that the husband offers this release – called a “Get” – and the wife accepts it, in order to free both parties to move on.  If the wife refuses to accept or the husband refuses to give the Get, then they are not free.  I believe the Rabbinical court is involved in working it all out.  (I don’t have a background in Judaism, so I hope I’m getting the details right here).

Back in medieval times this (apparently) worked pretty well.  It gave the woman some power in the decision.  If the Rabbinical court found that the woman was religiously and morally in the right, and the husband refused to give the Get, there were ways they could persuade him to voluntarily offer it – since religion had more direct power & influence over a person’s life in the past than it does now, generally speaking.

So when Stephanie and her ex divorced, there was an agreement that he would offer her the Get – which he did not do.  That did not happen until the civil law was re-written in Canada to apply the kind of pressure for resolution that religion & society used to do.  It took 15 years for this to be worked out.

Meanwhile, Stephanie was a “chained wife.”  She could not marry again in the faith, or have children in the faith.  The magnitude of this struggle is not really detailed but that is what really stands out to me.  Let’s say she was 25 at the time of the split-up – 15 years later, she would be 40.   Those are years where she could not be married and building a life with a partner, nor could she have children (or try to). 

Obviously her faith was important enough to her that she wanted to do things the “right” way.  It was important to her to marry someone of her own religion, and to have children that the community would recognize.  It just speaks to me – the fundamental conflict between what you believe in your heart to be true, to be the right path for you to follow – and the yearning to have children, to be married …

Now, I don’t know if she met the love of her life and waited for 10 years hoping to get married.  I don’t know how strong her urge to have children might be/might have been.  Perhaps it was “sure, if kids came along I’d like that” as opposed to “I really want to have kids.”  But just imagining that the ex has this power to block your access to the rest of what you want in life, because your faith and beliefs are so strongly rooted in that way … it just seems to me that the ex has done incalculable damage here.

While Stephanie cannot gain back the lost years, the civil law in Canada was changed such that this should not be able to happen.  The gist of the wording is that no person may place barriers to a religious re-marriage for an ex if it is in the power of the individual person to remove them.  So Stephanie eventually got her Get.

She did sue the ex for damages.  As I recall it was $2 500 for each year that she was not able to remarry, and $10 000 for not being able to have children.  (not that money can replace it, but I guess it was the principle).  That last figure really stuck in my head.  It’s about the cost of an IVF, isn’t it.  

If you are interested in hearing the documentary, I believe you can access it here:

you’ll need to go part 2.


5 thoughts on “Childless by religious conviction ?

  1. Portraits in Sepia says:

    Wow, I never realized that. I guess it’s a little simliar to the Catholic faith. I think Catholics can remarry and have kids but I can’t remember under what circumstances. Very interesting. Reminds me of why I am so put off by organized religion.

  2. Amy says:

    Hi Andie, This is a fascinating story. I had no idea Jewish marriage law worked like this–or even, really, that it existed. What struck me is how this illustrates the way social norms, laws, and religious guidelines don’t always keep pace with time. What made sense 100 years ago doesn’t always make sense today, and it’s fascinating to watch one individual navigate the difference.

    (I’m not ignoring your email—just catching up on everything this week!)

  3. Portraits in Sepia says:

    Hey there! Where have you been?

  4. Heather J. says:

    Wow, this is crazy. I’ve heard of a Get, but I guess I didn’t think through what the repercussions would be for NOT giving one.

    I know this is late, but I wanted to say thanks for dropping by my blog (through the allergy link from Bridges). My son was originally treated by Dr. Wood, although I didn’t realize he was “famous”. We’ve since switched to another dr b/c it was taking too long to get an appt. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I know what you’re going through and that you should feel free to contact me any time with questions or to chat or even to vent – I’ve been there (or rather, I’m STILL there) and I’d be happy to support you in any way I can.

  5. When the Man and I married, we were part of a new movement of couples signing legal (secular) contracts that required a Get upon a secular divorce. Not because we thought we’d get divorced some day, but because I know an agunah, or chained bride, and her story is a painful one. Rabbis feel trapped by the situation, as people whose job it is to work within a traditional framework, and to interpret it in a modern society while remaining true to the initial intent of the law. The marital contract is surprisingly aware of a woman’s needs in a marriage (check out the part on the husband’s responsibility for his wife’s sexual pleasure!), but the get process is simply not.

    Did the rabbis not realize that there are men who could be vindictive enough to withhold a get? I don’t know. There are any number of problems with traditional Judaic law, as it’s handled in modern society. Some are sweet, others are teeth-gritting. This one is simply sad.

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