‫בס״ד‬

Fair Terms
for Divorce:
A Halachic Right

RABBI YEHOISHOPHOT OLIVER

Table of Contents

ORA: “All Get Refusal Is Abuse”........................3
Basic Right to Fair Terms..................................4
Use Beis Din, Not Arka’os..................................6
ORA Supports Turning to Arka’os....................7
Legitimate Get Refusal.......................................7
Self-Defense is Not Abuse..................................9
Inequality is Not Abuse....................................10
ORA Covers Up for Abuse.................................12
“But That’s Not What A Get Is For”...............13
An Atypical Mitzvah..........................................14
Pursuing a Peaceful Resolution......................15
Conclusion..........................................................15

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ORA: “All Get Refusal Is Abuse”
The “Organization for the Resolution of Agunot” (ORA), is a
New York-based organization that touts itself as devoted to the
cause of freeing agunot. On its website, it argues vigorously
that the very act of refusing to give (or accept—more about
that later) a get, known as “get refusal,” is “a form of domestic
abuse which is never justified or excused.”1
ORA maintains2 that “get refusal” is “abuse”:
Divorce can be a complicated and messy process, and
there are often two sides to the story when it comes to
issues of finances and child custody. However, there are
not two sides in abuse—abuse is never justified. Thus, it is
never acceptable to refuse to issue a get once the
marriage is irreconcilable.
In fact, it is domestic abuse:
Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of controlling
behavior in a relationship, where one spouse tries to
assert control over the other spouse. … After a marriage
has fallen apart, the get is the last vestige of control a
husband has over his wife.
ORA defines get refusal as inherently abusive. It follows that
even if the husband thinks he is justified in doing so, his
opinion doesn’t matter and all his arguments in his own
defense are irrelevant. Because by definition, “abusive”
behavior is always inherently wrong. Hence, there can be no
justification for get refusal.
1 From ORA’s description on its website.
2 This and the following quotes are from ORA’s FAQ’s page.
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Thus, it is only consistent that ORA answers the question,
“Why would someone withhold a get?” as being motivated by
purely ignoble, malicious intentions:
To use the get as a tool to extort financial concessions. …
To use the get as blackmail to extort concessions in child
custody and visitation, regardless of what a civil or
rabbinic court decides is in the best interest of the
children. To inflict pain and suffering on an estranged
spouse out of spite. To prevent an estranged spouse from
moving on with her life and pursuing a new relationship
with another man.
For ORA, it is simply impossible for any worthy intention to
motivate this deed. Any man (or woman, but ORA focuses next
to no attention on the circumstance of female get refusal) who
withholds a get is portrayed as a nasty, selfish jerk, without
any attempt to learn his side. In fact, as quoted, to ORA, “there
are not two sides.”
ORA, supposedly an Orthodox Jewish institution, asserts all
these principles with absolute confidence, yet cites no classic
Torah sources whatsoever for these claims.
In this essay I will argue that ORA’s core philosophy, although
seemingly reasonable and correct, is in actual fact
fundamentally contrary to both Torah principles and common
decency. Moreover, it has its roots in a secular ideology
antithetical to Torah.
Basic Right to Fair Terms
A get is a contract.
It’s basic to any contract that a party to that contract is
entitled to negotiate for what he views as fair terms. One who
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doesn’t agree to the terms of the contract because he views it
as unfair is fully entitled to continue negotiating until he
reaches terms that he views as fair before agreeing to it. This
is his right, and it would be wrong for anyone to coerce him
into submitting to an agreement under terms that he views as
unfair.
The same is true of a get. Halacha grants the husband the
right not to give a get (except for in certain extreme cases),3
which means he is free to negotiate terms for the get that he
sees as fair for him. To pressure him into accepting terms that
he sees as unfair would be just as wrong as pressuring him
into accepting unfair terms for any other contract.
In fact, the necessity to allow the husband to negotiate fair
terms for the divorce settlement is even greater in the case of
a get, because halacha specifically states that a get must be
given willingly,4 more so than other contracts.
Of course, a get is fundamentally different from a regular
contract: Neither party—in this case, neither husband nor wife
—signs it. Rather, it is written by a scribe, although witnesses
do sign. Also, the action is one-way, in that the husband
divorces the wife and not vice versa.5 Also, the get is separate
from the divorce settlement; the get is the document that
dissolves the halachic marriage relationship, freeing the
husband from his kesubah duties to his wife and the wife from

3 Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’Ezer 77:3 Remo, Beis Yosef, and Gra. Also

see Rashba 7:414.
4 Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Gerushin 1:2
5 Some translations call a get a “writ of divorce,” which means???
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her status as a married woman exclusively designated for her
husband.
However, the get is directly tied to the divorce settlement in
that once the couple has agreed on the terms of that
settlement, the husband can give the get, enabling each one to
move on with their lives. Since halacha rules that one only
divorces by consent,6 it grants the husband the right to choose
whether to give the get, depending upon his decision about
whether he believes the terms are fair.
Likewise, Rabeinu Gershom, described as “the light of the
exile,” famously instituted that a woman be able to refuse to
accept a get if she so wishes.7 This is now her halachic right. It
would certainly be proper in a case when she wants to restore
marital harmony. However, even in the case of a truly dead
marriage, she is legally entitled to refuse to accept the get,
whether for reasons such as that she doesn’t agree to the
terms of the divorce, or even purely out of spite.
Consider this: Why would Rabeinu Gershom have fought to
establish that a wife be granted the right of get refusal, if get
refusal is inherently wrong and even “abusive”?!
Rather, in reality Judaism views get refusal as legitimate and in
some unfortunate cases, even desirable. This is the reason that
Rabeinu Gershom went so far as to institute a ban ensuring
6 “A man cannot divorce his wife except of his own free will” (Yevamos

112b).
7 Rama, Even HaEzer 119:6. This is actually a ban against divorcing a

woman against her will. This was in contrast to the biblical letter of
the law, according to which a woman may be divorced even against
her will.
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that not only would the husband be able to exercise this right,
but so would the wife.
Use Beis Din, Not Arka’os
A crucial issue surrounding divorce disputes in modern times
is the use of civil courts. Halacha requires frum Jews to settle
all monetary disputes through a beis din (rabbinic court) and
one may not sue a Jew in arka’os (civil court) without a
dispensation from a distinguished rabbi of sufficient caliber.
The same goes for a conflict between a man and a woman,
including the settlement of a divorce case.
It is unfortunately common in our times for women to violate
halacha by sinfully enlisting the secular family court to
adjudicate the divorce dispute and have them rule on matters
of property division, child support, and custody. Halacha rules
that not only is this a severe sin, but such a woman, like any
Jew who takes another Jew to arka’os, should be shunned:8
It is prohibited to go in for judgement before gentile
judges or arka’os [gentile courts] (a permanent seat for
ministers to hear cases), even if they were to judge
according to the way that Jewish law would rule in a
particular case, and even if both parties—the plaintiff and
defendant—had agreed to go in for judgment by these
judges. It is [nevertheless] prohibited, and anyone who
goes in for judgement before them is a rasha [evil
person], and it is as if they have insulted, blasphemed,
and raised their hand against the Torah of Moshe.
[Rema:] Gloss: The Beis Din may put him into nidui
[“shunning”] or cherem [“excommunication”] until he
withdraws the hand of gentiles from his fellow (Maharik
8 Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 26:1.
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root 154). Likewise, we excommunicate one who supports
another who goes before [a court of] gentiles (Rivash
102).
She isn’t entitled to a hello, never mind a get. Of course, the
same would apply equally in the reverse, in a case in which a
husband takes his wife to court without rabbinic authorization.
Since the child support money extracted from the husband
through arka’os is extracted shelo k’din, against Torah law, i.e.,
Torah has not required that the husband pay this amount, the
civil court’s ruling is halachically invalid and therefore
constitutes robbery and extortion. Similarly, any custody
orders are issued shelo k’din, and therefore constitute
kidnapping.
This woman has committed mesirah (informing on another Jew
to the secular authorities). She has enlisted the government to
rob her ex-husband of large amounts of money on threat of
going to jail and to commit kidnapping.
ORA Supports Turning to Arka’os
Not only does ORA fail to condemn the rampant phenomenon of
“Orthodox” Jewish women suing their husbands in divorce court, but
on its site, ORA even indicates that in its view, such a course of action
is completely acceptable: “Either spouse is free to address their
claims through an impartial third party, such as a beit din or civil
court” (emphasis added).u
Likewise, as mentioned earlier, ORA states that refusal to give a get
“regardless of what a civil … court decides is in the best interest of
the children” is inherently “abuse”! This means that ORA expects
husbands and fathers to conform with the civil court’s standards of
“the best interests of the children” even when those standards conflict
with halacha and basic fairness.

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In addition to the inherent prohibition in going to even a fair civil
court, it must be noted that the claim that a modern family court is
impartial is outrageously false, as these courts are consistently
stacked in favor of the woman (see below).

Legitimate Get Refusal
Consider a man in such a terrible predicament: He is about to
become a victim of extortion and have his children kidnapped
from him. He is entitled to defend himself and his livelihood
and look out for the best interests of his children through the
means granted by halacha: By simply withholding the get until
he has a guarantee that all abuse will stop and his wife will
agree to settle the matter in beis din or mediation.
This is often all the more necessary in modern times, in light of
the disgraceful, infamous bias in western family courts (and in
Eretz Yisrael in particular, to our great sorrow) in favor of the
mother and against the father, in which unwarranted,
cripplingly high amounts of child support and alimony are
required of fathers, while full custody of all children is granted
to the mother by default.
If these poor men don’t manage to pay, they are sent to prison
(where their debts continue to accrue!). These men may spend
the next eighteen years trying to keep up with this onerous
demand, often with their visitation rights dependent upon
paying this money. Some become fugitives, and some even
commit suicide.
In this reality, withholding the get would be a reasonable
response to being taken to arka’os. However, many cases
warrant withholding the get even more. Modern husbands face
the very real scenario that in the course of a separation, a wife
may be become vindictive and stoop to heinous crimes that
even violate secular law and common decency.
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Such grievous crimes all too common in modern times include
changing the locks so the husband can’t gain access to his own
house (robbery), falsely accusing him of domestic violence or
even molestation and taking out an order of protection, also
known as a restraining order against him (which constitutes
motzi shem ra, slander and mesira, informing to the
authorities), using these false claims to gain an advantage in
property division (fraud) and custody arrangements
(kidnapping through fraud), seizing his personal property and
storing it in an undisclosed location (theft), denying him any
chance to see their children, including flagrantly violating even
the secular court’s custody and visitation orders at whim
(kidnapping), absconding with the children to another state or
to an undisclosed location (kidnapping), and alienating the
father from the children emotionally (child abuse).
Why should a husband be expected to give a get while he and
his children are bearing the brunt of such abuse? As a matter
of self-defense, he should surely be entitled to say that he’s
only willing to give the get on condition that she withdraw
unreasonable demands in civil court, that she sign an
enforceable contract guaranteeing that she will retract her evil
slander, allow him to see his children without obstruction, stop
alienating him from the children, and cease any other ongoing
abuses she is committing.
The same goes for a wife: She is entitled to refuse to accept a
get if she feels that the husband has committed one of these
crimes or unacceptable behaviors, until she has a real
guarantee that they will not recur.
There are even more severe cases in which one parent would
be entitled to demand not only partial but full custody of the
children, believing with good reason that the other parent is
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fundamentally unfit. If the court (rabbinic or civil) doesn’t
accept one’s arguments, one would be justified in withholding
the get until one has a guarantee of receiving full custody.
So is it ever justified to withhold a get as leverage during a
divorce settlement? My answer is a resounding yes: It is
sometimes reasonable for a man not to give a get or for a
woman not to accept one. Yes, withholding is justified if he or
she is being offered unfair terms for the settlement, or is
suffering abuse from his or her spouse, or sees that his or her
children are being abused or are in danger of becoming
victims of abuse (which includes being alienated from the
other parent).
Self-Defense is Not Abuse
All societies and cultures throughout history have recognized
that there is a fundamental difference between attacking
another despite being in no imminent danger (“unprovoked
violence” and, if successful, “cold-blooded murder”) and one
who is under attack and compelled to use force in self-defense.
The recognition of this principle is also the justification for the
universal use of some form of police and army, who bear arms
and use force not only to deter crime, but to attack criminals
using force and thereby “keep the peace.”
To accuse a person of violence or criminal behavior (or, as the
radical left has been inclined to do in the case of the Arabs
attacking the Land of Israel, “war crimes” and “genocide”) for
defending himself while under attack is to unfairly deprive him
of the basic right to self-defense, to “blame the victim,” and to
indirectly support the criminal and even encourage crime.
Yet ORA supporters would have us believe that the one and
only exception to this basic moral principle is get refusal.
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Although even taking another life—unequivocally viewed by all
societies as a heinous act in itself—is permitted and even
proper in self-defense, get refusal is an exception to this rule.
Get refusal is the one and only deed that is never, ever
justified, even in self defense, no matter how much ill
treatment one has suffered. In fact, not only is it unjustified,
it’s “abusive”!
This is incredible. If one’s life is in danger from a murderous
intruder, using lethal force in response is not “abusive,” not
violence and murder, but legitimate self-defense. Yet simply
passively refusing to give or accept a get, which although
unpleasant and emotionally difficult, involves no bodily harm,
is never ever acceptable for any period of time.
I disagree. If one chooses to refuse to give or accept a get in
response to a vicious, vindictive spouse, it is obscene to brand
self-defense and protection of one’s children’s welfare as
“recalcitrance” and “abuse.” Such a spouse is not a
“recalcitrant husband” or a “recalcitrant wife”; he or she is not
being controlling, manipulative, vengeful, or abusive. His or
her perspective, needs, and rights do matter.
A person (in our times, typically a man) is entitled to protect
himself from personal harm from a spouse seeking to violate
his (or her) legitimate human and halachic rights. Such unfair
treatment may include:
 being bankrupted by being forced to pay unreasonably
high child support payments (in some cases, even
exceeding his salary and exceeding the amount that
constitutes his fair share of providing the amount that the
children actually need when considering his wife’s income
and later, his wife’s new husband’s income as well)
 being deprived of the ability to raise his children equally
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 being falsely accused of domestic violence or molestation
It is unfair, immoral, and the height of hypocrisy to expect and
even insist that a genuine victim of abuse give up the one
method they may have left to defend themselves and then to
even brand them as ... abusive (!) for daring to do so!
Inequality is Not Abuse
ORA supporters argue that the get grants the husband an
“unfair advantage” and that society must intervene and
eliminate this asymmetrical power. Although this is true in a
sense, because halacha does indeed state clearly that only a
husband is able to divorce his wife, while a wife is unable to
divorce a husband (although again, the wife does now wield
equal power in that she is just as capable of refusing to accept
a get as he is capable of refusing to give one), this admitted
advantage does not in itself render the husband’s withholding
of the get in the face of unfair and sometimes even spiteful
treatment unjustified and illegitimate.
This argument against the right of male get refusal is
reminiscent of the anti-Semitic “complaint” that in defending
itself from a barrage of Hamas rockets, the government of
Eretz Yisrael has an “unfair advantage” because it can deploy
fighter planes, tanks, drones, Iron Dome, and so on. The fallacy
here is obvious: Superior power doesn’t make one an evil
aggressor, and inferior power doesn’t make one an innocent
victim. What matters is whether one’s cause is just, not
whether one’s might is equally matched to one’s adversary’s.
Also, even in more standard conflicts in which there are no
starkly clear-cut right and wrong parties, inequality is an
unavoidable part of life that does not necessarily demonstrate
an inappropriate and malevolent abuse of power. For example,
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if one party in a divorce case hails from a wealthy family and is
therefore able to hire a brilliant lawyer, while the other side is
poor and can barely afford the minimum court fees, should
there be a law limiting the spending of the wealthy side on
lawyers in order to eliminate that side’s “unfair advantage”?
Of course not. Each side is legally and morally entitled to use
all the money at their disposal to further their own selfinterest.
(Moreover, as in the above case of the conflict between Israel
and Muslim terrorists, not only is the side with greater
resources not inherently in the wrong, it is quite possible that
the more powerful side is in fact the one fighting for a just
cause, and so the greater power of that side is something for
which to be grateful.)
But if ORA is indeed so opposed in principle to a spouse
exerting any unfair advantage, why do they do so selectively?
Why don’t we ever hear a word from them against the use of
civil family court, which notoriously accords a grossly unfair
advantage to women and thereby perverts justice and
victimizes innocent men (and children)? (In fact, ORA is even
known to support women who sued their husbands in family
court without rabbinic authorization!)
The answer is clear. ORA is a feminist organization, and
feminist ideology advocates for granting women (not only
equal, but) superior privileges. Thus, it is only men who are
never allowed to exert an unfair advantage, even if that
advantage is G–d-given, perfect, and immutable; for women, in
contrast, an unfair advantage is fine even by means of a legal

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system that is man-made, flawed, and reformable (and again,
forbidden).9
True Recalcitrance is Abuse
Of course, a truly “recalcitrant” spouse, one who refuses to
give or accept a get out of spite or in order to callously bully
the spouse into accepting a blatantly unfair settlement, acts
reprehensibly and should be condemned. (However, it is
forbidden to humiliate him in public in order to pressure him
to give the get, 10 as this would create a get me’useh, a
coerced and therefore invalid get.)
However, such actions are not wrong because get refusal is
inherently wrong—it’s not. Rather, they violate the Torah
prohibition of causing unnecessary pain to a fellow Jew. 11
ORA Covers Up for Abuse
Since ORA takes the stance that “get refusal is always abuse,”
it follows that any and every woman whose husband doesn’t
give her a get “upfront and unconditionally” on demand is an
agunah.
However, this claim is highly misleading. The term agunah is
very powerful and emotionally charged. It conjures up a
mental image of an upstanding, innocent woman who is cruelly
9 An even more egregious example of double standards is found in the

policy of ORA’s sister organization, JOFA (the “Jewish Orthodox
Feminist Alliance”). While they consistently condemn as “abusive”
male get refusal, they openly support female get refusal.
10 Rashba 7:414, Radvaz 4:118, Bais Yosef Even Ha’Ezer 154, Chazon

Ish Even Ha’Ezer 108:12.
11 ??
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manipulated by a megalomaniac husband who vindictively
deprives her of a get.
But consider the not uncommon case of a woman who takes
her husband to secular court without rabbinic dispensation,
milks him for tens of thousands of dollars, sues for very high
child support and alimony payments, and denies him visitation
at every turn (and often many other travesties).
After all this, she comes to Beis Din and expects to be
delivered a get on a silver platter by a man she’s slandered
and tortured for years, and clearly intends to continue treating
in this way for the rest of his life. With the cover of ORA and its
feminist philosophy, she successfully plays the victim and wins
community sympathy by calling herself an agunah and a victim
of get refusal.
Really, is there any wonder why this husband might not want
to give his wife a get? She has brought it on herself. Had she
treated him with the most basic respect, they would either
have reconciled or be amicably divorced. This woman is not an
agunah but a psychopath who doesn’t deserve to marry anyone
ever again.
But if, indeed, “get refusal is always abuse,” all the abuse that
this woman has inflicted upon her husband (and children) is
whitewashed out of existence. All common sense is turned on
its head, and the victim and abuser obscenely switch places.
Since the woman is not receiving a get, she becomes an
innocent agunah, while her beleaguered husband clutching
desperately to his last hope of restoring sanity to his life by
refusing the get morphs into a monstrous abuser.

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The real abuse going on here, in addition to the abuse of the
husband and often the children as well, is the cynical abuse of
the very concept of abuse.
“But That’s Not What A Get Is For”
A variation on this theme is the claim that one should never
refuse to give a get because “that’s not what a get is for.”
Since a get is meant for divorcing, using it for any other
purpose (e.g., “leverage”) is always wrong.
It may be true that a get is meant for divorce, but in a
circumstance in which one is forced to act in self-defense, it is
only reasonable that one may use it for that purpose.
As an example, if a hostile intruder steps over the threshold of
my house, and you tell me I can’t protect myself with a kitchen
knife but only with a gun because “that’s not what kitchen
knives are for,” you are not just giving bad advice, you are an
accessory to murder.
Likewise, those who argue “but that’s not what a get is for” in
a bid to prevent a husband from using a get legitimately to
defend himself from an abusive wife who has herself broken
every halacha concerning appropriate behavior during divorce
—these advocates bear the guilt for the lifetime of suffering
that might G–d forbid befall the naïve man who succumbs to
their arguments and gives a get prematurely to the detriment
of himself and his children.
An Atypical Mitzvah
Some object to the husband or wife negotiating fair terms for
the get before agreeing to give or accept it by pointing out the

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fact that giving a get counts as a mitzvah.12 A mitzvah, they
argue, should never be used for personal advantage.
Yet although giving a get is technically a mitzvah, it is not a
mitzvah in the normal sense. Obviously, it’s not a mitzvah (G–d
forbid) to seek to give one’s wife a get (“mitzvah kiyumis”).
Rather, if one has already chosen to divorce regardless
(something Torah merely permits in certain cases,13 but
doesn’t require, except for in certain rare and extreme cases),
one fulfills a mitzvah by doing so through giving her a get
according to the specifications of halacha (“reshus”).
Thus, Rambam states: 14
By this [mitzvah] we are commanded to divorce [a
woman] by a document once one wishes to divorce. This is
[the meaning of] His statement, “He writes her a
document of severance.” 15
In any case, the fact that the act of giving a get counts as a
mitzvah is irrelevant in this regard. Giving a get is far more
than a religious rite; it is an interpersonal act of dissolving the
marriage, which, as mentioned, Torah requires be consensual,
along with all that that entails.
Also, the issue here is not “withholding” and “refusing” the
delivery of a get permanently but merely delaying it until
12 Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos, Positive Mitzvah 222; cf. Sefer

HaChinuch, Mitzvah 579.
13 Cf. Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’Ezer 119:1.
14 Ibid.
15 Devarim 24:1.
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such time as it is rational to do so—until legitimate
outstanding issues are resolved, a binding settlement is
reached, and both sides are sufficiently satisfied and ready to
move on.
Therefore, if we’re considering giving a get as a mitzvah,
perhaps a comparison can be drawn to the mitzvah of bris
milah, circumcision.16 Although the bris should be performed
at a specific time (eight days from birth), if the baby is
jaundiced, the bris is delayed. Likewise, if giving the get needs
to be delayed due to more urgent concerns (such as those
mentioned earlier), the fact that doing so is a mitzvah is
immaterial, for mitzvos are sometimes delayed when
necessary.
Pursuing a Peaceful Resolution
Even when a spouse is technically justified in refusing a get,
that doesn’t necessarily make this decision constructive under
the circumstances. Threats and ultimatums are often only met
with further resistance, exacerbating an already volatile
situation until the conflict degenerates out of all proportion.
Refusing may also well result in many unintended negative
consequences, both in the short- and long-term, including
consequences far more damaging than the abuse one may be
currently suffering. It may be proper to make a temporary
sacrifice for the sake of a long-term benefit.
Each case is different, and one should seek out wise counsel in
order to determine the best course of action. Especially when
children are involved, all parties should forgo their honor and
pursue resolution and an end to all conflict whenever possible.
16 I thank Mitchell B. Cohen of Beit Shemesh for this insight.
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From the outset, despite the pain involved, both sides are welladvised to approach these negotiations in a spirit of goodwill
and respect so that the settlement can be reached in a timely
and amicable manner.
Conclusion
In summary, halacha entitles both men and women to divorce
on mutually fair terms so that the divorce is mutually
consensual. Both parties are within their rights to temporarily
delay the delivery and acceptance of the get until such matters
are fairly resolved, and this right should be protected and
supported.

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