This year the first night of Passover Seder is Friday night, April 6th. And on this special and holy night, I want to encourage everyone who participates in a Seder to "gossip."
C'mon rabbi! You know that it is a great sin to gossip, so why would you tell us to "gossip" on the night of the Seder?
For Jews the Seder night is the most regal night of the year as we celebrate freedom and the fact that we have the ability to stand before God and worship Him and not the Pharaohs of the world.
We recall our bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt and we say, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. But now we are free." But unfortunately we are not all free. There are women amongst us who are agunot, women who are chained to a dead marriage, and are unable to live their life in freedom. We must remember them and talk about them at the Seder as we celebrate our own Festival of Freedom.
Below is an excerpt from my book Fifty-four Pickup: Fifteen Minute Inspirational Torah Lessons. It introduces the story of one Agunah by the name of Tamar Epstein, whose ex-husband, Aharon Friedman now works for the very powerful Congressman, Dave Camp, who is the current Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
When Dave Camp was asked about the tragic situation that Tamar Epstein finds herself in, he dismissed it as mere "gossip" and said he was not interested in it. He is wrong. The point of the Seder is that we must always remember that we were once enslaved in the chains of Egypt and that we too must make sure to free anyone who we see shackled by the chains of bondage. This year at the Passover Seder, let's all try to unchain Tamar Epstein with our "gossip".
I met Tamar on Sunday, December 19, 2010. She is a 27-year-old graduate of Yeshiva University's Stern College and the mother of a three-year-old child. Although she was surrounded by family, friends, and literally hundreds of supporters, she had tears in her eyes.
She said to me, "I never thought it could happen to me. If it could happen to me, then it could happen to anyone."
Tamar is very brave. She is speaking out publicly and defiantly in the face of the terrible ordeal she is going through. She is currently an agunah or a "chained woman." By this we do not mean physically chained, but psychologically, emotionally, and legally chained. Despite the fact that she and Aharon have been separated for three and a half years and were civilly divorced more than a year ago, and despite the fact that financial and child custody matters have been settled, he refuses to give her a get (a Jewish divorce) and therefore she is not permitted to remarry.
I have been a rabbi long enough to know that when a contested divorce is taking place there are at minimum two different sides to the story. But when either party withholds a get and uses that as leverage, then until that matter is settled there is only one side. Period. Otherwise we are effectively giving the spouse veto power over any court's decision. Just as we would not tolerate physical coercion, we cannot tolerate emotional coercion.
I feel strongly that once there is a civil divorce there is absolutely no excuse to withhold a get. (I would actually go further and say that once there is no chance for reconciliation a get should be given immediately.) The get cannot be used as leverage to gain more money or better terms of a divorce settlement. To do such a thing is a desecration of God's name, as it is chaining the woman in an emotional fashion.
Make no mistake about it, being emotionally and psychologically chained can be just as enslaving as being physically chained. This year at the Passover Seder lets pray for Tamar to be freed from her chains!