How Social Media Freed Yael


Over the past year, CWJ has come to recognize the enormous potential of social and traditional media in increasing the impact of our litigation initiatives. Yael’s case illustrates how this collaborative power is having a dramatic effect on compelling greater accountability in Israeli courts, increasing favorable outcomes for our clients, and providing recourse to hidden victims of rabbinic court injustices.

Yael is a Hassidic woman whose husband withheld her get for six years. The High Rabbinic Court mandated a get and imposed various sanctions on him for his continued recalcitrance. When that didn’t help, they sentenced him to jail, referring the case back to Haifa rabbinic court for follow-up

However, after only a couple of months into the husband's jail sentence, the Haifa court decided to release the man.  Why?

The recalcitrant husband was demanding a NIS 800,000 payment from Yael's father in exchange for the get. Since the rabbinic court holds that extortion is a legitimate tool in obtaining a divorce, the judges at the Haifa rabbinic court urged the woman to accept the "offer". When the woman was unable to meet the heavy financial demand, the court declared her “not an agunah” and immediately released the husband from jail, denying her request for an appeal.

“In light of the husband’s agreement to give the get,” wrote Rabbi Edri, presiding judge of the Haifa Rabbinic Court, “the woman is not an agunah, because if she would only agree to the husband’s offer—which the Rabbinic Court does not consider to be beyond reasonable limits or excessive—she would be free.”

The woman’s father had agreed to put up NIS 50,000, but this was not enough. “Currently, the one holding up the get is the woman’s father,” writes Edri. “I am certain that if he really wanted to free his daughter from being an agunah, he would pay the full amount.”

Despite the High Rabbinic Court’s ruling, sanctions and jail sentence, the husband was able to walk away scot-free and the woman was told, “You are not an agunah; you are chaining yourself.”

CWJ’s recent successes in using media to force transparency and compliance on rabbinic courts brought this exasperated family to us. Although they were considering bringing a civil damage suit against Yael’s husband, her family asked CWJ to first publicize the damaging rabbinic court protocols in hopes that this exposure would shame the rabbinic court into reconsidering their position.

CWJ reached out to the media and the story quickly spread. Over social media, the public expressed outrage and demanded accountability from a court it perceived as cruel and abusive. The immense pressure CWJ sparked using social media reached the right ears and the following week, Yael received her get.

This story illustrates how our thousands of followers have, once again, proven themselves eager, willing and able to leverage their contacts and resources to assist women harmed by abuses of rabbinic power.The virtual communities we have created through an expansive and targeted communications strategy helps CWJ become more effective in mobilizing community involvement to reinforce our casework.