Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Gets And the Law

It has been a busy week for decisions involving the get - a Jewish bill of divorce.

The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a restraining order against a separated wife who had "pressed" for a get

Defendant L.B.B. appeals from the entry of a final restraining order (FRO) entered against her in favor of her estranged husband, plaintiff S.B.B., pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25- 17 to -35. The FRO was based on the predicate act of harassment. The communication underlying the trial judge's finding of harassment was defendant's creation and dissemination of a video accusing her estranged husband of improperly withholding a get, a Jewish bill of divorce, and asking community members to "press" her husband to deliver the get. Because defendant's communication constituted constitutionally protected free speech, we reverse.

The husband had received a number of "weird" and "alarming" telephone calls

Two days later, on March 14, 2021, plaintiff received a message from his sister in Israel. The message contained a photo of himself that he had posted as his "status" on the WhatsApp messaging app. Above the photo was written:

This man has refused to give his wife a get. His name is [S.B.B.]. He is holding his wife chained for over a year and a half. He lives in Elizabeth NJ. If you see him, tell him to free his wife. #FREE[L.B.B.].

In addition to his sister, plaintiff received the photo from one other person he knew.

When plaintiff saw the photo, he was "shock[ed]," "embarrassed," and "scared." Plaintiff explained that the photo would give community members the impression that he was "a get refuser" which "[could] be dangerous for [him]." Plaintiff testified that he had witnessed his father "[getting] beat[en] up" because "he was a get refuser." Additionally, plaintiff denied the accusation and was adamant that he was not a get refuser, having given the get to the Chief Rabbi of Elizabeth. His "understanding" was that the get would be provided to defendant "within [twenty-four] to [forty-eight] hours after the civil divorce [was] done in court." He also suggested that the Chief Rabbi had the discretion to give the get to defendant at any time. He explained his view that only a "beth din" could declare someone a get refuser.

Between March 14 and 15, 2021, plaintiff received numerous communications, including approximately ten "private or anonymous" calls, none of which he answered. In addition to the anonymous calls, on the afternoon of March 14, 2021, plaintiff received a message on WhatsApp from the Chief Rabbi's son. The message contained a video showing defendant speaking to the camera, saying:

Hi. My name is [L.B.B.]. I'm a mother of four children and I live in the United States without any family for the last seventeen years. In August 2019, my husband left the house and we're trying to get an agreement. We still did not get any of that. I tried to reach . . . the community Rabbi[] for help, and he said he will, and he got the get from my husband, but he is holding it for over a year now. The only way [the Chief Rabbi] can give it to me is by my husband permission. I'm seeking for help. I'm asking whoever can, please help me. To press [the Chief Rabbi] to let go of my get or to press my husband to give [the Chief Rabbi] the proof to give me the get. To release the get. Please, I really need this help. I want this get. I want this nightmare to be behind me. Whoever gonna help me, bracha on his head.

Several friends also sent the video to plaintiff.

"Bracha" translates as blessing.

The court

Without credible evidence that the video incited or produced imminent lawless action or was likely to do so, defendant's speech does not fall within the narrow category of incitement exempted from First Amendment protection. Likewise, because the judge's finding of a privacy violation relied upon the same factual finding, the record does not support the finding that the manner of defendant's communication violated subsection (a) of the harassment statute.

Yesterday, the Connecticut Supreme Court declined to enforce a get

The principal issue in this appeal requires us to consider the extent to which a Connecticut court may enforce the terms of a ‘‘ketubah,’’ which is a contract governing marriage under Jewish law, without entangling itself in religious matters in violation of the first amendment to the United States constitution. The plaintiff, Jon-Jay Tilsen, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dissolving his marriage to the defendant, Miriam E. Benson. On appeal, the plaintiff contends that the trial court improperly (1) denied his motion to enforce the terms of the parties’ ketubah as a prenuptial agreement on the ground that doing so would violate the first amendment, and (2) issued certain financial orders that were based on a clearly erroneous finding as to his earning capacity, were not based on his net earning capacity, and did not reflect his current financial circumstances. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The husband is a rabbi; the wife an attorney

The parties moved from Israel to the United States to further the plaintiff’s career opportunities as a Conservative rabbi. He found employment in the United States as the rabbi of a Conservative synagogue in New Haven, where he served for nearly twenty-eight years, until March, 2020, when the synagogue elected not to renew his employment contract during the pendency of this action. The defendant, who is educated and trained as an attorney, worked as a Social Security disability attorney, a paralegal, and a nonprofit executive. At the time of this action, she was unemployed and had not worked as an attorney since 2015, despite efforts to find employment. While married to the plaintiff, the defendant was the primary caregiver to the parties’ four children, all of whom are now adults, with the youngest reaching the age of the majority three days after the trial court rendered judgment. The defendant also assumed numerous volunteer responsibilities in connection with her role as the rabbi’s wife, including hosting weekly dinners and other social events, organizing children’s groups and other educational programming for the synagogue, and attending and leading certain services at the synagogue.

(Mike Frisch)

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