Women Unchained

Bev Siegel

From March ’12 Spotlight: On Sunday, March 11, Spertus Institute will host the local premiere of Women Unchained, a new “Get-o-nomics 101″ documentary by Chicago filmmaker Beverly Siegel.

When the husband of a married woman refuses to grant her a Jewish divorce (called a “get” in Hebrew), she is referred to as “agunah” (“anchored/chained”). Sometimes this emotional abuse is a continuation of assaults and betrayals documented during the marriage; other times it is financial extortion. Regardless, until the man agrees to grant a Get, the woman is unable to move on with her life (and absolutely forbidden to remarry) long after the marriage has failed.

When I called Siegel, she said: “A friend of mine has a daughter who was unable to get a get from her husband. She went through all kinds of exertions and humiliations and things she never thought she’d have to go through in order to get her daughter out of this marriage. When she finally came up for air after this horrible experience, she and her husband decided that they wanted to do something to raise awareness.

I was a video producer, so they said to me: ‘We would really like you to make a documentary about get abuse and we’ll help raise money.’ There were already two filmmakers working on this, Menachem Daum (who made A Life Apart: Hasidism in America) and Jack Comforty (who made The Optimists), and they both gave me footage that they had already shot. So I came into some footage and I got moving.”

But, Siegel cautioned: “This topic is just too complicated to stand alone. The reason that this film is only one hour and not true feature length (which would be 90 minutes), is because we really made it so that there could always be Q&A afterwards.” The panel discussion following the Spertus screening will include Siegel as well as Sharon Shenhav (Director of the International Jewish Women’s Rights Project) and Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz (from the Rabbinical Council of America), two of the people interviewed in the film itself.

According to the Spertus website: “Siegel and co-producer Leta Lenik see the film as a way for rabbis and laypersons, often pitted against each other on this issue, to hear each other’s points of view.” But after watching the screener, I just can’t understand how anyone justifies a system which traps women in such unfair circumstances and allows men to act in ways that seem so clearly mercenary. So I will definitely be at Spertus in March, eager to learn more.

Visit the Spertus website to order your tickets.

With Husband Howard

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