Reality star and author Julia Haart spent the first 40 years of her life in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. As a young girl, her primary goal was to become a wife and mother. After marrying a fellow member, she devoted herself to the task but felt stifled and unhappy.
She eventually left her husband and her conservative faith, launching a new career as a fashion designer and eventually, CEO of a top modeling agency. Her unorthodox journey has created controversy among former peers and highlights challenges surrounding religious divorce. Our Orthodox family lawyers explain more about this high-profile case and how a fresh start is possible for women in the Orthodox Jewish faith.
The Unorthodox Divorce Case Of Julia Haart
The Netflix reality show, My Unorthodox Life, centers around Julia Haart and her family. The show chronicles the details surrounding her personal life and business. She also has a new book, Brazen: My Unorthodox Journey from Long Sleeves to Lingerie, elaborating on her story.
Nearly a decade ago, Haart was living as a homemaker, mother, and member of the Haredi community in New York. An ultra-conservative group within Judaism, it strictly adheres to Jewish laws and customs, eschewing modern practices and attitudes. However, Haart felt something was wrong from a young age. In a 2021 interview with the Los Angeles Times, she says she always had a creative streak, enjoyed making clothes, and was drawn to bright colors. Her religion dictated extreme modesty, though, and required a cloistered life, limiting access to popular culture.
Her problems increased during her marriage, particularly when she saw one of her daughters struggling to conform to Haredi practices. In 2013, Haart decided to divorce her husband and left the ultra-Orthodox community. She became a highly-acclaimed shoe designer, eventually collaborated with the fashion label La Perla, and in 2019, married the company’s CEO. Since then, she has moved on to become co-owner and CEO of the Elite World Group modeling agency. Not long after, Netflix called, wanting to do a reality show based on her story.
Haart Case Stirs Controversy In The Jewish Community
Much of Haart’s story focuses on how repressed she felt living as an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman. She claims it took a heavy toll on her mental health, prompting her to ponder suicide. For her, shedding conservative practices, including prohibitions against religious divorce, positively changed her and her children’s lives. However, her public views on the matter have created controversy within the Jewish community.
Some Orthodox women resented her references to their religious practices as fundamentalism, expressing opposition under the social media hashtag #MyOrthodoxLife. They claim Haart uses Orthodox Judaism as a scapegoat and point to her recent divorce from her second husband as proof that leaving the Haredi community did not solve all her problems. They acknowledge that adhering to a conservative lifestyle can present challenges. However, they claim increasingly progressive attitudes, particularly regarding religious divorce, allow Orthodox women greater freedom and increased options in terms of personal fulfillment.
Agunot: Challenges In Obtaining Religious Divorce
For women not of the Orthodox faith, the process for obtaining a civil divorce is relatively straightforward and outlined under state law. However, in conservative Orthodox communities, couples must take the additional step of obtaining a religious divorce, known as a “get’. Our Orthodox family lawyers explain some of the challenges in obtaining a religious divorce:
- A “get” is required, in addition to a civil divorce, to officially end the marriage.
- Jewish laws and customs dictate the process, which often requires oversight by religious elders;
- The “get” must be written by a scribe and presented under the guidance of a Jewish ecclesiastical court;
- As opposed to a civil divorce, in which either party can file, only an Orthodox Jewish husband can serve a “get”;
- If the husband refuses, the wife has limited options.
Unfortunately, an Orthodox Jewish woman can be stuck in an unhappy marriage with a husband who refuses to cooperate. The Jewish name for this is Agunot, loosely translated to “the chained wife.”
Divorce And A Fresh Start Are Possible For Orthodox Jewish Women
In the Julia Haart case, her Orthodox Jewish husband agreed both to a civil and religious divorce. Today, they are on amicable terms. Haart says leaving the Haredi community and pursuing an unorthodox life resulted in estrangement from other family members, but her family has adapted and happily embrace their new lifestyle while still growing in their Jewish faith.
For women considering religious divorce who wish to retain their standing within Orthodox communities, a fresh start is possible. In fact, Haart’s Orthodox daughter and her Orthodox husband are currently separated and planning to amicably divorce, which is expected to be part of season 2 of the Netflix series. Our Orthodox family lawyers can guide you in the options available:
- Initiating a separation from your spouse if they refuse to consent to a religious divorce;
- Obtaining a civil divorce, effectively ending your marriage for legal purposes;
- Ensuring you get a fair share of all marital property and assets;
- Advising you on your rights to spousal support, which can help in ensuring your financial security;
- Addressing child custody and support, protecting your family and your rights as a parent.
Discuss Your Options With Our Orthodox Family Lawyers
Adhering to a conservative Orthodox Jewish lifestyle can create challenges, particularly in the event of divorce. While some women opt to leave the faith, as Julia Haart did, there are other options available.
To find out more about religious divorce and to discuss the options in your specific case, reach out to Stolfe Zeigler New Jersey Family Law Group. Call 732-240-9555 or contact our office online and request a confidential, one-on-one consultation with our Orthodox family lawyers today.