Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Using New Criminal Laws Against Coercive Control to Combat Get Abuse: Lessons from the Field

March 15, 2022

wedding bandThe day before Purim is marked by many Jews as the Fast of Esther, commemorating Queen Esther's bravery in speaking up for her people when they were threatened. In more recent years, it has also been marked around the world as International Agunah Day; a day to remember and speak out on behalf of agunot, women trapped in dead marriages until their husbands issue a get, a decree of Jewish divorce that can only be issued with the consent of the husband.

While agunot throughout history were often women whose husbands had absconded or were unable to consent, from the ate 20th century to the present day, we have seen a new kind of agunah problem emerge. Now, we see husbands who are physically present and mentally sound, but who use the power to withhold a religious divorce to inflict pain on their wives or as a bargaining chip in negotiations over property, alimony and custody in the civil divorce.

HBI's Boston Agunah Task Force is devoted to research, education and advocacy for fairness in the Jewish divorce process and takes the position that withholding a Jewish divorce is a form of domestic abuse.

In jurisdictions around the world, a new tactic has been developed in the fight against domestic abuse. It aims to provide remedies not only for acts of physical violence but also for patterns of conduct that aim to control a victim's actions, limit their freedom and undermine their sense of self. A series of cases brought by agunah advocates in England have successfully invoked this new definition of domestic abuse to aid women being denied a divorce under Jewish law.

HBI is hosting a three-part series that will explore the new legal and political strategies behind this initiative and the possibilities for using similar approaches in the United States. These online workshops are organized by the Boston Agunah Task Force, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, JOFA and Cheirut. They will be held at 12-1:30 p.m. March 22, March 29 and April 5.

Panel 1: "Coercive Control" and Get Abuse in the United Kingdom

12-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22

Moderator: Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University.


  • Anthony Metzer QC: Head of Chambers of Goldsmith Chambers, a leading multi-disciplinary set, and has a door tenancy at Exchange Chambers.
  • Joanne Greenaway: Chief Executive of the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS).

Panel 2: Possibilities for Using "Coercive Control" to Fight Get Abuse in the United States

12-1:30 p.m. March 29

Moderator: Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University.


  • Esther Macner, Esq.: The founder and president of Get Jewish Divorce Justice, a non-profit organization in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Erin Bistricer, Esq.: A senior staff attorney for Sarah’s Voice, a legal project of Shalom Task Force that provides free legal services to New York domestic violence victim-survivors from the Orthodox Jewish community.
  • Keshet Starr, Esq.: The Executive Director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), the nonprofit organization addressing the agunah (Jewish divorce refusal) crisis on a case-by-case basis worldwide.

Panel 3: Considering the Halachic Implications of Relying on "Coercive Control" Laws to Fight Get Abuse

12-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5

Moderator: Layah Lipsker, director of the Boston Agunah Task Force.


  • Rabbi Aryeh Klapper: Dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership, Rosh Beit Midrash of its Summer Beit Midrash Program and a member of the Boston Beit Din. Rabbi Klapper is a founding member of the Boston Agunah Taskforce, a project of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann: The Menahel (Director) of the Beth Din of America in NY.
  • Dr. Rachel Levmore: A Rabbinical Court Advocate with and Director of the Agunot and Get-Refusal Prevention Project, International Young Israel Movement in Israel and The Jewish Agency.