International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation (IJCAM) 

Vo. 3, (2022). Published August 30, 2022. 

DOI: 10.54208/1000/0003/004

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Getting the Ghet: Analyzing the Need for State Intervention in Canadian Jewish Divorces

Lea Lavy


A commitment to religious freedom involves respecting the individual’s spiritual choices and obligations. However, to regard a religious community as an association that members join and quit at will is to miss both the value of religious association and its potential to limit, and sometimes even to oppress, its members (Moon, 2008). Through analysis of the judicial reasoning in several Canadian Supreme Court cases, I argue in this article that the courts are justified in ruling to protect vulnerable group members from oppressive or unjust religious rules, and that the state is justified in legislating such protections.


In the private sphere, most religious systems impose patriarchal norms on family life (Becker, 1999). In Judaism, the Jewish Orthodox rabbinical courts have exclusive control over marriage and divorce. These courts almost always grant to men full control over divorce, which results in gender-based discrimination and violation of female human rights. Under Jewish law, Halacha, divorce is not a judicial act and may be achieved only at the husband’s will. When the man refuses to divorce, the wife has no religious recourse and is known as agunah, or "chained wife." She is unable to continue her life without a ghet, the religious annulment of the marriage, and civil divorce or subsequent marriage are not viable options according to Jewish traditions. Practices surrounding the ghet often ignore the woman’s rights, rights that should be protected by the state and upheld by its courts. In this context, the role of the state is to alleviate women’s disadvantages; as such, secular legal authorities, comprising actors in both the legislative and judicial systems, should be obligated to ensure equal and fair treatment for women, even in the sphere of religious tradition.