Until at least the 18th century, Jewish communities and rabbinic courts could impose consequences on a husband who refused to give his wife a get, or bill of divorce, and thus prevented her from remarrying. Outside of Israel, Orthodox communities today must instead rely on coordinated social pressure. Earlier this month, a New Jersey court overturned a previous ruling that effectively outlawed some of these remedies. Michael A. Helfand explains:
[At present], there are Jewish organizations dedicated to remedying these cases of agunot [wives “chained” to their husbands] who use well-attended rallies, among other tactics, to pressure husbands to give the get and thereby release their wives from the marriage. And in more recent years, a growing number of (largely female) social-media influencers have sought to use their online presence to further encourage husbands to end marriages that, but for the get, have for all intents and purposes ended long ago.
But in the case of S.B.B. v. L.B.B., an initial New Jersey trial court decision held that for a woman to encourage this sort of coordinated pressure could constitute legally prohibited harassment. The defendant in the case had disseminated a video asking members of the Jewish community to “press” her husband to give her a get. . . . In turn, the judge granted the husband a final restraining order because this sort of coordinated campaign could “incite violence.” She also awarded the husband attorney’s fees and monetary damages.
The appeals court, however, reversed the decision, concluding that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech protected the dissemination of such videos. . . . Essential to the appellate court’s decision was the fact that the video was not “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action [nor] likely to incite or produce such action.” If it had been, then the protections of the First Amendment might very well have fallen to the wayside. But the video, in the assessment of the appellate court, did no such thing.
Attempts to quash such efforts under the guise of harassment will not withstand constitutional scrutiny.