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Shabbat Parashat Naso| 5764
Forcing a Get From a Man Sitting in Jail - Condensed from Piskei Din Rabbani’im vol. VIII, pp. 124-128
Case: A husband was sentenced to fourteen years in jail for a series of serious sexual crimes. After continued attempts in vain to convince him to give a get to his wife, the wife now requests of beit din that they should coerce him to give one.
Ruling: [In general, batei din are reluctant to rule to coerce the giving of get, because if coercion is not warranted (even if the husband should give a get) coercion renders the get totally invalid. Several reasons were advanced to justify coercion; we will deal only with some of them.]
The wife says that she is unwilling to live with such a man who was guilty of serious sexual crimes. This is similar to a case where a woman says, “he is despicable in my eyes.” In such a case, the Rambam (Ishut 14:8) rules that beit din can force the husband to give a get based on her claim, but we do not pasken like the Rambam (Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 77:2). However, the Chut Ham’shulash cites the Tashbetz that when the woman has clear and widely recognized grounds for despising her husband, others would agree to the Rambam’s position. Although not all ascribe to the Chut Ham’shulash opinion, it is worthwhile to add to the other grounds for coercion.
Another claim of the wife is that the husband is incapable of serving as such because he has just begun to serve a long jail sentence. The Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 154:9) says that if it is known that a husband is unable to continue to live in the place they married because of fear for his life, he can be forced to divorce. The Rama explains that it is because she is not required to follow him in this case. The G’ra (ad loc.) argues about the ability to coerce in such a case, since there is no Talmudic precedent for coercion in such a case. However, the Oneg Yom Tov (168) says that in a case where the husband was sentenced to extended slave labor in a desolate land, he can be coerced to give a get even according to the G’ra. This is because he is unable to provide for the wife financially or to function in any way as a husband. This is different from the G’ra’s case, where the wife could follow him if she so desires, which is impractical if he is sent to horrible conditions in a desolate location. It could be, additionally, that if he caused his situation by his crimes, then it is like a case where he is mored (rebels from his responsibilities).
Because of a combination of factors, it is clear that there is sufficient grounds to coerce a get. We will not accept all of the minority opinions in each area in order to create a situation, which we do not even know if the woman can withstand. Although the most common means that are possible by law to force a get, incarceration, is not applicable in this case, as he is already in jail, irrespective of the get, he can beheld under harsher conditions or threatened with physical pressure.
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