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Congress’ Chained Woman

The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee says he’s committed to family values. So, why is he allowing his adviser to deny his wife a get?

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Tamar Epstein. (Thinking Jew Girl)

Congressman Dave Camp, the Republican from Michigan who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, has a 100 percent rating from the Family Research Council, the conservative Christian organization that claims to promote “faith, family, and freedom.” So, why is this religious Catholic allowing his senior adviser Aharon Friedman, counsel to the House Ways Committee, to abuse his wife?

Here are the facts: Aharon Friedman, 34 years old, has refused to give his wife, Tamar Epstein, a get, a Jewish writ of divorce, for the past four years. Epstein, 29, is in limbo, to borrow a term from another religious faith. Without a get, she cannot remarry in the Orthodox community, have children, and get on with her life. According to a recent study by the Greater Washington Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, there are currently approximately 500 women in North America like Tamar Epstein. (Uncounted, of course, are the number of women who agree to pay their husbands substantial sums, compromise on child custody, and make other concessions precisely so that they will not become agunot, or chained women.)

Friedman has been “held in contempt” by no less than the greatly respected Beth Din of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, a rabbinic court that does not have the power to issue a get—only the husband can do that—but can try to compel the husband to do so. The organization has issued a Declaration of Contempt (seruv) against Friedman.

In addition, the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington, the body of Orthodox rabbis in the Greater Washington area, also known as the Rabbinical Council, issued a letter calling on the Jewish community to exclude Friedman from participating in prayer services, joining their institutions, and other elements of “membership” in the community. He has also been condemned by an array of Orthodox rabbis, among them Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom synagogue in Washington, which bills itself as the National Jewish Synagogue, and Avraham Shmidman of the Lower Merion Synagogue in Pennsylvania.

At a rally in support of Tamar Epstein held in December 2010, Rabbi Shmidman said: “Aharon Friedman walks around Capitol Hill as a religious Jew … But this is not what a religious Jew does.” According to the New York Times, over a year ago Rabbi Herzfeld wrote to Jon Traub, the Republican staff director of the Ways and Means Committee, accusing Friedman of “psychological terrorism.”

And yet, Camp has dismissed the whole thing as “gossip.” It’s not. It’s a fact that Friedman is abusing his wife using the foil of religion. Camp has reportedly told others it’s an internal or private matter and he does not feel he should get involved. But imagine if a chief staffer in Camp’s office was found to be beating his spouse or abusing his children. Would Camp dismiss that as “a private matter”? I seriously doubt it.

It would be ironic if Camp is reluctant to take a stand because he fears that he might offend Jews. The fact is that Judaism takes a very dim view of husbands who refuse to give their wives gets, particularly after having been told to do so by rabbinic courts. Maimonides believed that recalcitrant husbands should be flogged until they agreed to issue the get.

Friedman has complained that there are unfair aspects to divorce and child-custody settlement—aspects that he wants to change. But using the giving of a get is an unfair tool and only sullies the tradition Friedman claims to uphold.

Neither Camp nor the other members of the Republican party should countenance employing a man who uses what I believe is best described as a religious ploy to prevent his wife from moving on with her life. They don’t need to fire him. They only need to coerce him to do the right thing by sending him a clear message: As long as he refuses to set Tamar Epstein free, he is shaming the United States House of Representatives and the Republican Party, which prides itself on being pro-family, pro-religion, and pro-procreation. There is nothing that could be less pro-family, -religion, or -procreation than this kind of behavior.

Camp’s Facebook page was inundated with critical comments about Friedman. It is no longer possible to post comments about this issue on his page, though Camp’s office has not explained why. But his critics have already taken to Twitter @FreeTamar and other social media sites.

You can call Camp’s office and politely say this is wrong. (I just did.) You can contact the Ways and Means Committee, ask for the director’s office, and express your dismay. You can also sign a petition urging Camp to act. Thousands already have.

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It is rather strange for this publication to present a divorce dispute between two intelligent adults from one side only. You are correct that not being granted a divorce is horrible – but you make no attempt to understand the background and the events leading to this state of affairs. You assume as a given that the husband is an evil person and that the wife is the victim of a psychopath.

I don’t claim to have the final answers – but the reality is much more complex than you are presenting in this embarrassing piece.

In short this is not journalism but is simply an advocacy for the exclusive benefit of one party to this difficult situation.

A more balance understanding can be obtained from reading the views of both on my blog Daaas Torah.

Larry Silverstein says:

You asked on your blog why Tamar Epstein doesn’t have a get. But that
is the wrong question to be asking.

The question which people should be outraged about in the controversy
between Tamar Epstein and Aharon Friedman is how Tamar abducted their
child to another State. Tamar’s abduction of the child and her
continued attempts since then to prevent the child from having a
relationship with Aharon constitute horrific abuse. That is why
Tamar doesn’t have a get. Just ask yourself what parent would agree
to give or accept a get given such behavior.

Anyone interested in Tamar receiving a get should explain to her the
importance of letting their daughter have a father involved in her
day-to-day life. And since abducting the child, Tamar has also
continuously done what she can to prevent the child from having a
relationship with Aharon, including violating agreements with Aharon,
abusing Aharon’s adherence to halacha, refusing to let the child spend
scheduled time with Aharon, threatening their child’s paternal
relatives and organizing demonstrations against them in front of their
child. And Tamar’s associates openly boast of trying to prevent their
child from spending scheduled time with Aharon.

Aharon has repeatedly tried to resolve their differences in a
conciliatory fashion, only for Tamar to continuously use this to her
strategic advantage in trying to prevent their child from having a
relationship with Aharon. Several people have recently reached out to
Aharon to mediate, including Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld. Aharon has
agreed to mediate, but Tamar has refused to do so.

Other important questions raised by this case are Tamar’s making a
mockery of the beis din system in order to delay adjudication in civil
court so that her abduction of the child would be treated as a fait
accompli, and the abhorrent tactics used by Ora, including attacking
innocent third parties, and creating an enormous chillul hashem by
turning what could and should have been a private

Larry Silverstein says:

matter to be
resolved quietly into an international news story.

Anyone interested in reading a detailed description of the case can go
to http://www.stuffandnonsensesaidalice.blogspot.com

Scott B says:

Aharon Friedman sounds like a despicable human being who rightly deserves to be shunned by Jews and all who know him. However, it is not proper for his government employment to be affected by his refusal to abide by religious norms. To do otherwise would be a violation of the First Amendment.

Ed Lobel says:

family valus As much as I dislike David Camps political views, I am not certain that this is a matter for him. On the other hand, Aharon Friedman works for him and his work must be effected by this situation. Even though Camp thinks he is not interferring in a personnel matter, it is his responibility as a man who prides himself in family values to step in and solve this problem befor it affects his re-election. Where is Rabbi Schmuely when you need him?

Geoff M says:

I have to agree with the first two commenters that this is very one-sided description of the situation. No journalist should be satisfied by capturing the husband’s side of things with the throw-away line, “Friedman has complained that there are unfair aspects to divorce and child-custody settlement—aspects that he wants to change.”

Furthermore, Lipstadt then decry’s using the withholding of the get as an “unfair tool,” which may be true, but according to Larry Silverstein’s link, it sounds like Tamar Epstein has used in some rather unfair and underhanded legal tools as well.

Unfortunately, we learn nothing of them from Ms. Lipstadt because that doesn’t jive with the oppressed woman narrative.

To be clear, I don’t support withholding a get from a woman, but not giving at least some airing to the husband’s side of the story paints him as a petty tyrant which doesn’t seem to be the case.

A man who withholds a get is abusive, but a woman who refuses to relent on matters of custody is merely uncompromising?

George Robinson says:

Brava, Dr. Lipstadt!
Thank you for calling this to our attention.

George Robinson

‘Friedman has complained that there are unfair aspects to divorce and child-custody settlement—aspects that he wants to change. But using the giving of a get is an unfair tool”

Is this an unfair tool if the mother also uses all sorts of tools , as noted in the earlier comments and blogs, to her advantage?

Deborah Lipstadt seems to refuse to explore the father’s positions and is biased in her presentation.

Former 972 Reader says:

If Larry Silverstein’s blog, linked in his second comment, is an accurate representation of the facts, and it seems to be at least a fair recap of what has happened, then it appears the mother has acted in quite bad faith and has unilaterally abducted the couple’s child and then has done everything in her power to keep the father from the child.

More egregiously, it appears she asked the courts to require that a Sabbath-observant man who lives in another state (because she moved away and abducted the child) may only begin his partial custody of the child on Friday night by moving it from Thursdays. Talk about cynical use of religious observance against somebody.

Perhaps withholding a get is inappropriate, but it appears that the wife has behaved far more inappropriately in this dispute. It appears the mother, in seeking her own independence, has selfishly stolen (there is no other word) a child from her father and then used the child to further her desire to win the dispute.

I have a suggestion for Ms. Lipstadt and all other friends of the wife: get her to act fairly toward the father regarding the child. I have a feeling she’ll have her get faster than you can say, “religious hypocrisy.”

Miriami says:

I don’t know any details of the case, but all the defenders of Mr. Friedman ignore how rarely the bet din issues a seruv. This is quite an extreme measure and speaks for itself.
Even if Ms. Epstein behaved badly, Mr. Friedman can still remarry if he wants. Ms. Epstein remains chained.

chana says:

The custody arrangement was battled out in the court and changed as recently as last July:

See http://washingtonjewishweek.com/main.asp?SectionID=4&SubSectionID=4&ArticleID=15781

” That issue appears to have been resolved in a July 22 ruling issued by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Steven G. Salant, who ordered that Friedman’s weekend visitation hours would no longer begin on Friday evening, but rather on Thursday evening, thereby eliminating any Shabbat-related conflict.”

Aharon has availed himself of the civil court system to procure time with his daughter. Even if the custody arrangement is unfair, he can and has attempted to remedy that through the legal system. She, on the other hand, cannot utilize the legal system to remedy his unfair withholding of a get.

Talk about one-sided!

Former 972 Reader says:

@Miriami, please explain what you mean by “even if Ms. Epstein behaved badly.” Isn’t that a severe understatement? She stole a child from her father and then used the father’s religious observance against him with respect to seeing the daughter he never wanted to see gone in the first place.

This is plain cruelty, and it is a cynical use of his religious observance. It seems highly appropriate that he should use something critical to religious observance to respond.

@Chana, can you please explain why the father would even need to have the court modify these visitation hours? Didn’t the mother know the father was observant and that after taking the child without his permission, she was now foisting a further dislocation from the child by demanding that the visitation be relegated to Shabbat?

I guess she used the courts and religion against the father but wants different rules to apply to her. She’s acted in a most unethical and unsympathetic manner. Fathers are parents no less than mothers and do not love their children less than mothers and one party does not have the right to choose to keep the other parent away because she seeks her freedom.

I have to say, I have never believed that a man should withhold a get under any circumstances. Ms. Tamar Epstein is making me rethink this position.

philip mann says:

Some days,the writers here reach the peaks Other days,this reads like a gossip mag. Anybody who has been married knows that there are several sides to the story.

I called from Jerusalem, emphasizing that Jewish women around the world hold Camp responsible for not pressuring his aide.

Chaim says:

Comment to Miriami-
Look into which Beis Din issued this seiruv – one of the most corrout ones around – the epstein family paid big $$ for it.

Chaim says:

To Chana:
you are missing the point here. Ms. Epstein refused to listen to the beis din that they both agreed to go to. after going to countless others that refused to take her case, she paid big $$ to Mr. Ralbag, whose beis din was pasuled by HaRav Eliyshuv after multiple acts of corruption. Yes, the court agreement was changed, but not out of the kindness of Ms. Epsteins heart, she went to court to try to take away all his custody with false witnesses and tracking devices she implanted in their child. The judge saw through this and threw out all her lies and gave him somewhat better custody. What stops Epstein from repeatedly going back to court to try to take away custody. Mr. Friedman was told by multiple gedolim not to give a get until everything is settled satisfactorly, and not before. He has no halachic obligation to give a get – Epstein is clearly a moredes, not an agunah. It is very sad that Epstein is ruining it for the real agunahs out there!

Chezzy says:

Deborah Lipstadt, whom I have previously admired for her writings, disgraces herself here by peddling a one-sided screeching rant. Withholding a get is a scummy thing. But not nearly as scummy, by many orders of magnitude, as a mother’s attempt to distance a child from a father — which Epstein appears to have done.

Kol HaKavod and congratulations to Prof. Lipstadt for speaking out on this sorry state of affairs.
Hope it helps.

Phil N says:

Rep. Camp is wise to stay out of a divorce dispute. From all the letters it is clear that there is much information that was readily available that Ms Lipstadt left out.

Chaya says:

The real problem is the whole process of a get. My cousin and her husband (no kids) settled a civil divorce proceeding, with HER paying on the financial side, and his promising a get. Which he reneged on.

When she wanted to remarry (quite some years later, she hadn’t even met her current husband at the time), she appealed to a rabbinic court, which eventually awarded her the get. Since her ex had remarried (obviously not an observant Jewish marriage) and had 2 kids, he was obviously withholding the get solely for the purpose of injuring her. In this case, the court did the right thing.

Why do we continue to observe a system that allows for the dissolution of everything else, and allows the husband to hold the wife hostage forever?

And while perhaps not directly relevant in the Friedman-Epstein case, how many times does the money wielded by the husband leave the agunah in the lurch? Funny, my cousin’s first husband’s name was also Friedman, though not this one. Does it go with the name?

Sarah says:

Why do people expect Friedman’s boss to do anything. Everybody is barking up the wrong tree. This is a purely rabbinic problem; caused by the rabbis and must be resolved within the Jewish rabbinic system.

America has complete separation of religion and state. Those who don’t understand this are very ignorant and I would say also cowardly. The ones they have to push are the rabbis. Not the guys boss.

shtark says:

Victims of true, violent, domestic abuse must be crying at all the political capital wasted on this divorce fight. Calling the (ex-)husband’s behavior “domestic abuse” devalues the term. Such overuse desensitizes us to true abuse, and makes it too easy to ignore How much more likely are we now to filter out cries for help on behalf of battered wives, assuming they are just angling for a better divorce settlement?

Jack N. Porter says:

I’ve compiled a book on agunot (Jason Aronson Press) but I never used the word “abuse” —I don’t like the word. True, there are husbands who are shmucks and do not want to give a ‘get’ out of spite but most want something that can be given–like don’t take the kids to Israel with you, more visitation rights, etc. In most states, a divorce decree in the secular courts contain a point about giving a get, and can be enforced with fines and possibly prison. Such a point was point #50 in my wife and mine divorce.

But in my case, there is still another problem. The wife must “accept” the get; if she does not, the couple is still not “divorced” religiously yet can be divorced secularly. (Mrs. Friedman can always get a secular divorce).

So, sometimes, the man is an ‘agun”.

The story left much to be desired; it left out much detail from the husband’s point of view and is just a feminist attack.

Find our what the husband wants–often it is not money but visitation rights, etc. Husbands also have rights.

Get an objective writer and one that knows halacha and do another story.

Vishin says:

Why does she “need” a Get? If this is so awful, why does the community give this power? Why would it shun this woman if she didn’t get a Get that they believe is wrongfully withheld anyway? Or is the belief that G-d wants women to suffer, and even Maimonides is wrong?

Will Edwards says:

The bottom line is this… It’s barbaric to try to keep a woman that doesn’t want to stay, regardless of how the man feels. I can understand not wanting to lose someone as dear as a loving spouse, or child…whatever, but in this day and age we do not own other human beings, least of all our partners. Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her. He kept her in a pumpkin shell and the law put him in a prison cell… heh. You can only control yourself. Everyone must live their own life and make their own decisions if they are to be held responsible for their own actions.

Will Edwards says:

I am always amazed at the clear line of bigotry my fellows step up to. If the woman wants out, failure to let her go is just cruel. Cruelty is not sanctioned in Judaism. It really doesn’t matter what”A” says if “B” doesn’t want to go along. Who really cares about what side of the story is being told? Seriously… It takes two to tango else its not a dance.

Thank you Deborah, for reiterating what we have all been saying for decades.Friedman, who is no relation of mine, is one of many. It took 7 years to get my get,& as a result, R’ Moishe Feinstein and Sheldon Silver crafted the NY “get” law, which states that a spouse who puts an obstacle to remarriage in the path of the other spouse will not get community property or custody. This law should be passed in all 50 states. It happened after R’ Moishe tried to put a clause in my divorce decree that said that if I didn’t get my get, my ex would be held in contempt. It6 happened, but on appeal, the courts backed off, citing separation of church & state. Marrying & divorcing are basic human rights listed in the UN charter. You would think that by now, these issues would be resolved. But we live in strange times, a time when rethuglicans, champions of family values, are rolling back women’s rights,condoning & legislating rape with vaginal probes, while redefining rape so you must be physically injured,& they are legalizing incest over the age of 18 while telling women that a child of rape is a gift from God. Camp is one of those who voted for HR 3 today. There is no reason to expect him to do a damned thing for some poor woman, except maybe haved her legally raped with a vaginal probe if she needs or wants an abortion. Those are the men we are dealing with here. Do not expect anything from them but the worst. Get him voted out of office and try to prevent Friedman from ever working in DC again. I fear, however, he and his ilk will find a way to ooze their way back into office.

Daniel says:

You are using the ‘s incorrectly.

shavit says:

do we really want employers intervening in the religious lives of their employees because of popular pressure? Be a bad jew, get fired? I shudder at the thought that my job depends on what my christian boss thinks of my choices in life!

this is a private matter. pretending there is no distinction between beating your spouse (i.e. committing a crime) and refusing to perform an exclusively religious act with no legal significance is disingenuous (and baffling).

GABRIEL says:

Fuck you.

Hillel Katchen says:

Aharon is holding on to something that is not there anymore. Aharon, let go of the past and give Tamar a get.

Chaim says:

Mrs. Friedman is clearly a MOREDES who abandoned her husband and absconded with the couple’s child to another state. In the YU – ORA feminist “religion”, the concept of a MOREDES simply does not exist, and Jewish women are never held accountable for their actions.

In truth, if a Jewish wife flees with the couple’s child and then obtains court orders in ARCHAOS, her husband has the right AL PI HALACHA to demand that the wife nullify the court orders, return the child to the father’s town, and compensate the father for his damages. Only then may the Bais Din rule on whether or not the wife is entitled to a GET.

Evidently Tamar Epstein refuses to return the child to the father’s city, and nullify the court orders. She therefore cannot have the status of an AGUNA. On the contrary, she is M’AGEN herself, and labeling her an “AGUNA” is grotesquely fraudulent. The Jewish community has absolutely no right to persecute Mr. Friedman for requesting his G-d given rights to a halachic divorce settlement.

There is something a little peculiar here. if the wife wants to be liberated, all she needs to do is walk away from a sect of Judaism that makes her a prisoner of her husband’s decision. Why blame Christians for this?

zbird says:

To me it sounds horrible and misogynistic that Orthodox Jews would demand a get from a husband. But it’s a free country, and if the Orthodox want to maintain an archaic, misogynistic religious practice, that’s their business. Tamar doesn’t need a get — if she had the courage of her convictions she could quit the movement and remarry as she saw fit.

Yale Harlow says:

Dorthy,

Thank you for an eye-opening article re our political scene. I hope it wakes up the voters!
YALE HARLOW

For the republic says:

I do not quite understand this article: the USA is a laicist republic – there is no state religion.

What Ms Lipstadt demands is that a public official use pressure on one of his subordinates to compel him to comply with religious duties. Does this not (at least) violate the spirit of the religious test clause of the Constitution? Also, the comparison with “beating his children” or “abusing his spouse” are weird: those are crimes under the law, not (private) religious duties.

Would we really all be comfortable with a system where a (public or private) employer (!) make his employment decision dependent on the fulfillment of private religious duties? So a law firm should fire an associate who is a roman catholic if that associate is a) gay or b) divorces his wife (both actions are considered sinful as a matter of catholicism)??? Or, I forgot: Ms Lipstadt does not think firing this guy is necessary; rather (I quote:) “Neither Camp nor the other members of the Republican party should countenance employing a man who uses what I believe is best described as a religious ploy to prevent his wife from moving on with her life. They don’t need to fire him. They only need to coerce him to do the right thing by sending him a clear message: As long as he refuses to set Tamar Epstein free, he is shaming the United States House of Representatives and the Republican Party, which prides itself on being pro-family, pro-religion, and pro-procreation.”
So public officials should “coerce” someone to comply with this religious duties? I don’t think so!

And while we are at it: where do we stop? What counts as religious duties in this way?

The bottom line: the US is a free country because there is no state compulsion in religion – and Ms Epstein is (contrary to what Ms Lipstadt writes) a completely free woman exactly because of that. She is NOT a chained woman: she is free to do as she sees fit exactly because of the rules which Ms Lipstadt clearly does not like.

Phillip Cohen says:

I am not one to come to the defense of a Republican. However, I found this one-sided article a mean and vicious attack on a man for what is the residue of a family concern, a marital dissolution and the legal settlement resulting from those issues. What I do find contemptible is the public parade of what is essentially a private matter. A man not giving a woman a get is not abuse. If it were that important to her she would negoitate with him. I don’t know if he isthe father of her children or there is some other issue on which all of this rests. Did she cheat? Did she ask for alimony? If children, are there custody issues? These are things that only they and their lawyers can answer and respond to in a family court. Trying to shame the husband in an online Jewish News magazine into giving a get without all of the facts is reprehensible.
He must have his reasons. Not that any of us need to know but in the context of what was already published, what are those reasons from HIS perspective?

Steve says:

Allowing!!! What kind of crap reporting is this? America, as far as I still know, is a free country. Nothing, that is either legal or not a condition for employment, should be allowed or disallowed by an employer or an associate. This story is total BS. If anything is to blame it is the religion, itself, that requires this archaic ritual.

Michael in Ohio says:

So sorry to see the brilliant Professor Lipstadt, whom I admire, wade into this morass.

martin rosenfeld says:

With due respect, I disagree with a number of the premises in this blog. You will see another perspective in my blog at http://civildivorcecivilget.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/agunah-facebook-and-mediationrabbi-martin-rosenfeld/

Patricia says:

If the other man is Catholic. Divorce is a sin. If you divorce in the Catholic faith you cant mary again or be involved in church activies.. Just as a jewish woman without a get is any catholic with one.
You have to take in his background.

Our rabbis cannot enforce the laws of gittin so we expect the goyim to enforce our laws?! You have got to be kidding! Our leading rabbis should be taking care of this Chilul Hashem now! They certainly have had enough time!

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Congress’ Chained Woman

The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee says he’s committed to family values. So, why is he allowing his adviser to deny his wife a get?

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