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I've read that part of the problem of agunot ( women who are refused a divorce ) is that if we force the man to give a get then the get is invalidated, and thus Beitai Din in Israel refrain from using force.

However, that is not strictly true:

A most basic rule in Hilchot Gittin is that a Get must be given (and received by the wife, post-Cherem d'Rabbeinu Gershom) of one's own free will. (Rambam, Gerushin 1:1,2) If the husband is coerced, the Get is invalid. (Rambam, Hilchot Gerushin, 220[sic]) The oft-quoted dictum kofin osoh ad sheyomar rotzeh ani -- "we coerce him until he states 'I want to"' -- applies only in cases when (a) specific grounds for that verdict exist, (b) the Bet Din renders a verdict of kofin (we force him), and (c) the coercion is carried out by the Bet Din or others implementing its verdict.

We see that a Beit Din has the authority to coerce the man to give the get, and we can see from Rambam in הלכות אישות פרק טו, ב regarding a marriage without children for ten years that the Beit Din physically beats the husband till he gives a divorce (or takes a second wife).

In light of that, I don't understand why it seems that Batai Din refuse to use force in cases where the husband uses the refusal of a get as a means of blackmailing his wife, and where the claim of the Get being invalidated by the use of force comes from.

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This one's pretty straightforward -- forcing a Get only works in situations when halacha says beis din can do so. The Talmud gives examples of abusive behavior or intolerable medical conditions; but if they're just annoyed with each other's personalities, we don't have a halacha that says beis din can use coercion.

Hence the beis din has to make a tricky call, "is this a situation that allows coercion?" If they rule "no coercion" when it should be used, she could be stuck; but if they rule "yes coercion" when it shouldn't, then the Get would be invalid. But many batei din can be a bit gun-shy about making this ruling.

Rambam's opinion is that if she simply says "I get sick at the thought of having relations with him", that's enough to warrant coercion, but others (e.g. the Rosh) disagree.

  • So why can't they rely on the Rambam's ruling on this matter, especially since the men in most of these case clearly intend to divorce the woman and are willing to do so, and are only withholding the get in order to blackmail the woman financially, i.e. not to pay the ketubah or even worse to get the woman to pay them a large sum for the get, or other similar blackmail. – Robert S. Barnes Jan 1 '15 at 12:36
  • Also, what are the list of things for which Beit Din can use coercion according to various authorities. – Robert S. Barnes Jan 1 '15 at 12:41
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    @BabySeal I wouldn't say "often". Maybe "sometimes". Not that it shouldn't be accounted for. – Double AA Jan 1 '15 at 13:37
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    @RobertS.Barnes Because maybe we don't rule that way? – Double AA Jan 1 '15 at 13:37
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    @RobertS.Barnes Some forms of coercion are probably not legal according to secular law. That said, there are certain chassidic communities where physical violence is sometimes used to "persuade" the husband to give a get. – Fred Jan 1 '15 at 16:43

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