UNION OF ORTHODOX JEWISH CONGREGATIONS JOINS BROAD COALITION IN SUPPORTING MARYLAND GET LEGISLATION
Yesterday, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, joined a broad spectrum of Jewish leaders, advocates for women and others to urge passage of legislation, SB 533 and HB 324, sponsored by Senator Lisa Gladden and Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, designed to prevent any woman from becoming an “agunah.” Several heroic women, each an agunah or daughter of one herself, gave legislators an eloquent and human face to this tragic situation. The UOJCA submitted written testimony to both the Senate and House of Delegates supporting the bill. UOJCA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman offered oral testimony on a panel with constitutional scholar Nathan Lewin, Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Baltimore’s Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion, a UOJCA member congregation, and Rabbi Abba Cohen, Washington Director of Agudath Israel.
Following the hearings, Howie Beigelman stated:
“This vital legislation to help women in need, backed by the united and unified voice of Jewish leaders, rabbis, and women’s advocates, meets strict constitutional and halachic (Jewish legal) standards. Unscrupulous spouses cannot be allowed to use religion to intimidate or torment. We thank Senator Gladden and Del. Rosenberg for their leadership on this issue and hope it is sent to both houses for an immediate vote.”
If enacted, the legislation, similar to an existing law in New York drafted by Mr. Lewin, which has never been successfully challenged constitutionally, would provide each plaintiff in a civil divorce proceeding with the opportunity to request an affidavit that would require his/her spouse to swear that they have removed any religious barriers to the other spouse’s remarriage that are only within their power to remove.
The legislation has the support of the Maryland Jewish Alliance (including the JCRC of Greater Washington and the Baltimore Jewish Council), the Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore, the Baltimore Board of Rabbis and the Rabbinical Council (Vaad) of Greater Washington as well as the UOJCA and Agudath Israel of America. CHANA and JCADA, domestic abuse prevention and treatment arms of the Jewish community as well as the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, a non-Jewish organization, support the bill as well.
The legislation is narrowly tailored to meet both Jewish legal requirements — a get must be freely given, and a forced get, a get meusah, is legally suspect. An opinion letter by the Maryland Attorney General states it is neither an excessive entanglement in religion, nor does it have as its primary benefit to advance or inhibit religion, and represents a clear secular purpose of ensuring fair and equitable divorce proceedings.
This is the fifth time the legislation was introduced in the Maryland Legislature. If approved in committee, the legislation would be voted on by the full House and Senate and then would be subject to approval by the governor.
Note: A copy of the UOJCA’s written testimony can be viewed on the OU/IPA web page, or by clicking here