Has the long-running and well-publicized saga of a Lower Merion Orthodox woman seeking a religious divorce from her husband truly come to an end, or does the surprise announcement that the woman “is free” represent yet another twist in the tale?
The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot — which means “chained women” because their husbands won’t grant a religious divorce, or get — has advocated for years on behalf of Tamar Epstein, of Bala Cynwyd. The group last week put out a vague news release stating that Epstein “is free” but did not specify how the case had been resolved.
Epstein’s husband, Aharon Friedman, a congressional staffer, has refused to grant a divorce. He has faced increasing public pressure to do so and has been treated like a pariah in some segments of the Orthodox community.
ORA did not elaborate on what actions had prompted its announcement, and no one outside the organization could confirm that Epstein had in fact found a way out of the marriage.
The former couple, who has one young daughter, separated in 2008 and finalized a civil divorce in 2010. While she’s been free to remarry according to secular courts, that’s an impossibility in the eyes of Jewish law.
Traditionally, Jewish law requires that the husband grant a get before either the husband or wife can remarry. One possible explanation for ORA’s announcement is that Orthodox authorities have found some way, within the framework of Jewish law, to annul or invalidate the marriage.
“All I can say is that Tamar is now free and the case is resolved from our end,”said Meir Zack, assistant director of ORA.
A source close to Friedman insisted he had not granted Epstein a get. The source said that no one had been in touch with Friedman about any major developments in the case.
Attempts to reach Epstein and her family were unsuccessful.
Shmuel Kamenetsky, head of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, who is considered a major authority on Jewish law, is close to Epstein’s family and has been involved in the case, could not be reached for comment.
Rabbi Ezekiel Musleah, an 86-year-old Conservative rabbi originally from India who specializes in Jewish divorce, said there is legal precedent for rabbis to declare an annulment absent a get, but it is rarely, if ever, invoked.
The dispute has attracted national attention, in part, because Friedman works for U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. In the last several years, Epstein has received support from local and national rabbinic circles, and ORA has organized large protests outside Friedman’s office in Washington D.C., and apartment in Maryland.
Friedman’s associates have maintained that he has been unfairly slammed in the media and the court of public opinion. His defenders have repeatedly claimed that he has been mistreated by his wife’s family and their allies, and that he has felt that withholding the get was the only option he had to ensure that he wasn’t shut out of his daughter’s life.