Ex-Husband’s Refusal Give Jewish Divorce ‘Get’ Called Act of Domestic Abuse

The New York Times recently reported about the story of Lonna Kin, a 52-year New York woman who says she is being held hostage by ex-husband Meir Kin over his refusal to grant her a “get,” the document required by Orthodox Jewish law to legally end a marriage in the eyes of the Orthodox faith. According to intricate Jewish laws dictating marriage and divorce, only a husband has the power to grant a religious divorce. For the Kins, though their civil divorce was granted by a California court in 2007, without the get, Ms. Kin is now forbidden under Jewish law to remarry.

While it is unclear why her ex-husband has refused to “give the get,” Ms. Kin is claiming his motivation to be a very simple one: money. In the article, she and her supporters say that Mr. Kin is demanding $500,000 and full custody of their 12-year-old son in exchange for the divorce.

Ms. Kin calls herself an agunah, Hebrew for chained wife. As for Mr. Kin, Jewish law prohibits men from taking multiple wives. But Mr. Kin, who just got married again last weekend in Las Vegas in an Orthodox ceremony, is apparently relying on a legal loophole which says that if a man can get the special permission of 100 rabbis to take a second wife, he is able to do so, without giving the get to the first wife. Mr. Kin has refused to provide information on whether he did indeed consult with this needed number of rabbis.

Why is this case making news? According to the New York Times, Ms. Kin has become a powerful symbol for what activists say is a deepening crisis among Orthodox Jews — hundreds of women held hostage in a religious marriage, in some cases for years after civil cases have been settled.

As the Times reports:

Traditionally, Jewish communities relied on the threat of ostracism to persuade a recalcitrant husband to give his wife a divorce, but many say the threat became far less potent as these communities opened and spread out. In recent years, Orthodox activists with the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, which organized the protest at Mr. Kin’s wedding, have tried to publicly shame men into giving the get.

“What has happened here is really shameful,” said Rabbi Kalman Topp, who drove from Los Angeles to protest the wedding, along with other rabbis and congregants from Orthodox synagogues there. “Not only is he in clear violation of Jewish law, but he is utilizing and corrupting Jewish law to commit cruel domestic abuse.”

Frustration over this issue has also resulted in some wives taking criminally illegal action in the name of getting the get, including a case reported last year in New Jersey in which a rabbis were arrested for accepting bribes from women to extort their husbands, and in some cases send hit men to threaten physical harm, all in the name of getting the get.

Now that Mr. Kin is remarried, Ms. Kin is despondent that she will ever receive a get, despite the protests.

“He’s basically a bigamist,” she told the Times, “and basically, I’m just stuck.”