I read somewhere that the mikvah is so important to Orthodox Jews that typically a new community will build a mikvah before they build a synagogue! At first I thought that was an exaggeration, but this morning as I was trolling through New York Magazine’s archives looking for information on Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng, I came across the most fascinating mikvah/divorce story dating back a few years that involved Chaim and Chayie Sieger an orthodox Jewish couple of the Bobov Hasidic sect in Borough Park, who were having a particularly protracted divorce in the rabbinical Jewish courts. The allegations against each were fascinating, but what caught my bloggeristic attention was the fact that the husband tried to use an obscure Jewish law that dates back thousands of years to obtain a Heter. What is a Heter?
So the husband in the Sieger case tried to get a heter on the grounds that the wife, amongst other things, did not attend mikvah. Obtaining the Heter would have enabled him to get re-married, and would have entitled him to equitable distribution where he normally would not have been entitled to any from the wife’s premarital assets. In other words, though the husband is the one who gives the wife permission to remarry in Orthodox Jewish sects, in the case at bar the husband wanted to play hardball and not give the wife permission to remarry (aka, give her a GET) unless she split her pre-marital assets with him. So this heter was a form of blackmail in a way in this case. And he was able to get it by making some salacious allegations against the wife including allegations about her failure to attend the mikvah:
The most serious charge in the 27-page English translation of the Heter is that Chayie Sieger was “not fit to live with and have sexual relations with” because she failed to attend the mikvah; more precisely, she would pick fights with her husband to delay or avoid going. Short of calling her a whore, this is the worst thing you can say about an Orthodox woman. “It’s ridiculous. If I can’t be trusted to go to the mikvah,” Sieger says, “then the food in my house probably isn’t kosher either. It’s like saying I’m not even Orthodox.”
So what exactly is the mikvah? It is “the ritual baths where a married woman purifies herself for sexual relations after her menstrual period.” This still happens in the Orthodox community, btw, that women go to the mikvah, and not going could entitle a husband to a divorce. This is really serious business.
This case was illustrious because Ms. Sieger even sued the rabbis in her Brooklyn Borough Park community and alleged that her husband Chaim had bribed them with nearly $1,000,000 which the rabbis allegedly split amongst them in order to obtain a fake heter. The case is captioned Sieger v. Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States & Canada
It is unclear how the case ended up as the trail went cold on Google. But the underlying subtext remains a hot topic/question over here. Can an Orthodox Jewish man really divorce his wife if she does not go for monthly baths at the mikvah following her monthly periods?! And isn’t Ivanka Trump now an Orthodox Jew? Oh vey!
Read more: An Un-Orthodox Divorce http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/religion/features/n_9013/#ixzz0YvK9GbXf