The 'chained wife' whose Orthodox Jewish husband refuses to allow her to divorce him – despite FOUR YEARS of separation
16:00 GMT, 28 May 2012
A woman has spoken out about how her Orthodox Jewish husband refuses to divorce her despite being separated for four years.
In keeping with strict religious beliefs, Rachel Balassiano, a 35-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, is fighting to convince her husband to give her a Jewish divorce which is known as a 'get'.
The mother of three, who has been separated from Maurice Balassiano, 50, for four years, is considered to be an 'agunot' women, a name given to those who are 'chained wives'.
Chained: Rachel Balassiano, an Orthodox Jewish woman (above), is trying to convince her husband to give her a get which is a Jewish divorce. She is just one of hundreds of Jewish women in the same boat
According to traditional Judaism, husbands can withhold a 'get' from their wives for as long as they like as only men have the ability to end a religious marriage.
Mrs Belassiano is just one of hundreds of North American women who are considered 'agunot'.
According to research conducted in October 2011 by The Mellman Group, a U.S. based research company, there were 462 agunot women living in North America between 2005 and 2010.
Mrs Belassiano told NY Daily News: 'I am upset. I want this to end. He doesn't want to give me up.'
If she was to remarry without receiving a 'get', the new marriage would be considered adultery by the Orthodox Jewish community.
Any future children would be regarded as bastards. She would also never be able to marry another Orthodox Jew.
Mr Belassiano said he is willing to grant his wife a 'get' – but only after she agrees to a financial settlement.
He said: 'I am willing, but there must be a settlement first, then she will get it. She has to give me what I want.'
Many other Orthodox Jewish women in similar situations have turned to advocacy and feminist groups to help convince their husbands to allow a 'get'.
Rabbi Jeremy Stern, the executive director of the Organisation For The Resolution Of Agunot, is one of many case workers who aim to reduce the number of 'agunot' women living in New York.
'We consider the withholding of a 'get' a form of domestic abuse. Abuse is not just about black and blue marks'
'We consider the withholding of a get a form of domestic abuse', he said. 'Domestic abuse is about control. Abuse is not just about black and blue marks.'
He said he is working on about 70 cases at the moment.
Blu Greenberg, the founder of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance which operates in North America, Israel and the UK, said: 'No women should be put into this situation' before adding that the issue is 'one of the greatest crises in the Orthodox world today.'
But while awareness appears to be growing, some women are a long way off winning their own battles.
Rachel Nataneli, a family law attorney who specialises in domestic violence and works with many Orthodox Jewish women, said some women feel helpless in the situation as many men use a 'get' as a way to bargain over financial matters.
She said: 'A lot of victims of abuse give up many important rights in order to get a religious divorce. Many women who need an order of protection won't do it. They are terrified.'