A Socio-Legal Investigation of 'Get' Jewish Divorce Refusal in New York and Toronto: Agunot Unstitching the Ties that Bind
Machtinger, Yael Chaya Bracha
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This study, focusing on religion, law, and socio-legal storytelling, is a comprehensive, qualitative study of Jewish divorce (get) refusal and the first comparative study between Toronto and New York, cities with the largest and most diverse Jewish populations in their respective countries. Since the 1980s and early 1990s, there have been slow socio-legal developments around get refusal in New York and Canada as well as heightened awareness and advocacy in New York, coupled with denial of the persistence of the phenomenon in Toronto. Sally Falk Moore noted of a different legal pluralist context, Innovative legislation and other attempts to direct change often fail to achieve their intended purposesnew laws are thrust upon going social arrangements in which there are complexes of binding obligations... (Moore, 744). Despite the increased visibility of get refusal in the media, much of the work being done, both social and legal, continues to perpetuate a gap between legal and social realities within Jewish communities as well as silences, particularly in Toronto. At least in part, this is due to unforeseen forces, specifically the power of normative cultural practices. Drawing on interviews inspired by oral history and ethnography, and archival sources to get a thick description, this dissertation contributes to womens historiography of marriage and examines the overlapping legal norms of Jewish and civil laws, making some key contributions. I incorporate socio-legal literatures dealing with religion, law, and multiculturalism, as well as gender and storytelling (by talking to broad and diverse stakeholders) and thus I bring literatures of social theory, religious feminism and legal pluralism together in an innovative way to examine womens narratives of being chained to a marriage. I shift the parameters of studying get refusal by placing womens narratives and experiences of being refused a get by their recalcitrant spouses at the centre of this analysis, developing a critical legal pluralist approach. With empirical support from interviews I illustrate that get refusal is not necessarily a function of ones piety. It may impact all types of women, and religious observance is not in and of itself the cause (thus abandoning religious observance is not the solution). Furthermore, I demonstrate the deep connection between domestic abuse and get refusal.