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This recent news article discusses a Jewish man who was ordered by a non-Jewish court to pay maintenance to his wife until he grants her a get (Jewish divorce document).

The man claimed in court that if he were to grant a get under the terms of this ruling, the get would in fact be invalid, as it would have been given under compulsion.

The judge rejected this argument. But what do halachic sources say?

If a non-Jewish court imposes payments until a get is given, would that invalidate a subsequently granted get? Under what circumstances is a 'compelled get' valid or invalid? What exactly are the parameters that define a 'compelled get'?

Ideally, I would like as comprehensive an answer as possible, but answers discussing specific scenarios are of course welcome. I would be particularly interested in answers addressing the case described in the linked article, where there does not seem to have been any involvement of a Beit Din (Jewish court) in the process.

  • The classic case is Shulchan Arukh EH 134:4 and :9. How to apply that to your case, which is something classical authorities probably never would have dreamed of, is not entirely obvious. It's a very difficult Halakhic question (unlike the mistaken and oversimplified presentation below) – Double AA Aug 27 at 12:01
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In some prenuptial agreements (e.g., the RCA) my understanding is that the parties agree to a certain monetary penalty and agree it can be enforced through civil courts (see VII).

An alternative scenario would be if the husband refused (siruv) to appear in front of a beit din which then allowed the wife to pursue penalties in civil court.

In both of these cases, a penalty would be allowed by the Beit Din and I can't imagine that they would allow it if it makes the get invalid.

But the strongest argument might come from the famous Rambam (Gerushin 2:20) writing one can penalize (beat) a man for failing to divorce his wife, and that it is not called forcing him to divorce, because every man wants to do the right thing (divorce) and we are just helping him fight his yetzer hara.

When a man whom the law requires to be compelled to divorce his wife does not desire to divorce her, the court should have him beaten until he consents, at which time they should have a get written. The get is acceptable. This applies at all times and in all places.

[...]

Why is this get not void? For he is being compelled - either by Jews or by gentiles - [to divorce] against his will [and a get must be given voluntarily].

Because the concept of being compelled against one's will applies only when speaking about a person who is being compelled and forced to do something that the Torah does not obligate him to do - e.g., a person who was beaten until he consented to a sale, or to give a present. If, however, a person's evil inclination presses him to negate [the observance of] a mitzvah or to commit a transgression, and he was beaten until he performed the action he was obligated to perform, or he dissociated himself from the forbidden action, he is not considered to have been forced against his will. On the contrary, it is he himself who is forcing [his own conduct to become debased].

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    Regarding your first point, maybe it's different if a beit din is allowing the involvement of civil courts? – Joel K Aug 27 at 8:07
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    Regarding Rambam, that only applies where he is obligated to issue a divorce according to halacha. What if that is not the case? – Joel K Aug 27 at 8:08
  • Your question was whether a divorce following court-imposed penalties would be valid? I tried to show it could be, if either there was a prenuptial agreement, if the beit din allowed the woman to proceed in civil court, or if the beit din compels the man to divorce. There are of course other cases but the three scenarios above are all quite possible – mbloch Aug 27 at 8:15
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    Got it, thanks. I'd love to see a more comprehensive answer addressing the issue more broadly, and especially focusing on what exactly counts as compulsion in giving a get (get me'useh) but this is a great start. Thanks again – Joel K Aug 27 at 8:17
  • I've added a paragraph to tighten the focus of the question, but I don't think it invalidates your answer – Joel K Aug 27 at 8:23

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