July 12, 2024
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Nonprofit Provides Abused Jewish Women With Answers

Kol Isha (“voice of women”) helps women who seek Jewish divorce know their rights under Jewish law and navigate the system.

(Courtesy of Kol Isha) Rachel B., a 37-year-old Jewish mother of four, endured years of emotional and physical abuse from her husband. She hoped that ending her marriage was the answer and knew that she needed a get (Jewish divorce)—but had no idea where to begin, or even if she should. Would her husband take the kids away? Would she be ostracized by her close-knit Jewish community, and even by her own family? How could she support herself when the only job she knew was wife and mother?

In the Orthodox Jewish community, divorce is somewhat frowned upon. So women like Rachel lack the one thing they need to take control of their lives: information. They have no one to help them understand their rights, how to navigate the legal process, how to confront a beit din—a Jewish law court comprising powerful (and often intimidating) scholarly rabbis.

That’s why Margaret Retter founded Kol Isha (www.kol-isha.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to “lifting the veil of secrecy” surrounding the intricacies and challenges of Jewish marriage and divorce—and empowering women who have been abused and left defenseless by their lack of knowledge about the Jewish court system.

Retter knows all too well about the dearth of information available to women in the Orthodox community. A former public defender and criminal defense attorney in the federal and state courts, she has advised countless Jewish women of their rights in marriage and divorce for decades.

Kol Isha (voice of women) has been helping victims of domestic abuse and violence in the Orthodox community since 2000. It offers a wealth of resources to help women become fully informed about their rights in Jewish courts, as well as step-by-step guidance on getting the help they need. It also facilitates connection with others in local support groups.

Women like Rachel can turn to Kol Isha to address concerns such as: How will I benefit from a Jewish divorce? If I agree to a get, do I have to confront my ex-spouse again? What is the validity of a get in a secular court? How does a beit din ensure that a woman is adequately represented?

“My mission is to prevent a woman from becoming an agunah,” said Rettera, referring to a woman who may not remarry without a bill of divorce or proof of her husband’s death. “My aim is for her, if she wishes, is to be able to remarry anywhere in the world by an Orthodox Rabbi who will accept her Jewish divorce without question.”

“My purpose is not to convince a woman to get a divorce or not. It is only when I am convinced that a woman really wants to separate, and or divorce, or I have evidence from a physician, emergency room or police reports,” she says, “that I will give her safety plans and explain the beit din system, how it works and how to proceed.”

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