web analytics
March 27, 2015 / 7 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

The Agony Of Agunot


Kotzo Shel Yod” (“The Point on Top of the Yod”), the 1887 poem by Judah Leib Gordon, includes a description of the cruel harassment by rabbis of an unfortunate agunah (literally, a “chained woman,” whose husband deserts her or disappears without divorcing her, thus preventing her from remarrying).

The description is vitriolic, wicked, dishonest, and disgraceful, in the spirit of the poets of the Enlightenment period, among whom Gordon was a central figure. The truth is that the leading rabbis in every generation clearly tried to find solutions, even far-fetched ones, for the distress of agunot.

The illustrious Rabbi Akiva Eiger (late 18th century) helped to release an agunah with the explanation that “the time is right to release a Jewish woman from the bonds of being an agunah, and Jewish women should not be hefker (victims of lawlessness).”

Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrahi (Kushta, 15th century) rules that the absence of a solution is liable to drive desperate women to sin, and therefore: “We are going to be lenient with an agunah… and in emergency we should rely on the words of one person. And there is no greater emergency than a situation where if a woman remains an agunah all her life, a mishap will definitely result.”

These great rabbis were no less God-fearing than the dayanim (rabbinical court judges) of the rabbinical courts of our time. They were also familiar with the warning of the sages against hastiness in judgment: “A dayan must always see himself as though the gates of Hell are open beneath him” (Sanhedrin 7a).

In their awareness of their great responsibility, how-ever, they were not afraid to seek solutions for difficult questions about agunot. Moreover, according to the Kabbala, releasing an agunah brings the redemption closer.

In modern times we also have the widespread syndrome of Jewish women being hefker and Jewish women denied a get (a religious divorce). Ostensibly, solving their problem according to halacha is much less complicated than releasing an agunah; moreover, the law has authorized the rabbinical courts to sentence a husband who denies a get to a long period of imprisonment.

Even so, there are dayanim who are opposed in principle to such enforcement, and even milder types of enforcement, for fear of a get kafui – a divorce granted under duress, which is not considered valid. Consequently, there are many recalcitrant husbands who exploit this situation for prolonged abuse.

It should be noted that not all dayanim adopt this stance, and the debate itself is a halachic one, since a get imposed on the husband against his will is invalid according to halacha – although if “he is beaten until he says ‘I agree,’ ” the get is considered kosher according to the Rambam. Dayanim are divided, though, over the types of sanctions that, according to halacha, can be imposed on husbands who deny their wives a get.

In light of this situation, Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recently initiated a conference of dayanim from Israel and the Diaspora to seek ways to ease the distress of agunot and women who have been denied a get. But the conference, to which dozens of rabbis and dayanim came, was cancelled at the last minute (it had already been canceled once before, only to be rescheduled).

Instead of a respectable and serious conference that was three months in the planning, the guests marched off to a lunch at which it was not possible to discuss significant issues.

It is no secret that among the general public there is a growing sense of disgust with the rabbinical courts, the main reason being the foot-dragging in the cases of women denied a get. There is a woman, for instance, whose case has dragged on already for nine years, and the blackmailing husband is celebrating. He was lucky to get a “good” panel of dayanim who do not practice coercion.

I know that even stringent rabbis are not inflexible and hardhearted, but with their success in canceling the conference, they created the impression that the rabbinical courts are not at all interested in solving the problems of women who are denied a get.

What is the sense? Would it not have been better to speak and to be heard, even if only to prove that they are not disconnected from the community of suffering women?

About the Author: Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Agony Of Agunot

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu to Release Frozen Palestinian Authority Tax Revenue
Latest Indepth Stories
Islamic Relief Worldwide Logo

In November 2014, Islamic Relief Worldwide was classified as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates.

Safran-032715

Too rarely appreciated for its symbolic weight; it can represent freedom and independence.

Erica Pelman is a spiritually-driven woman. She is founder and director of “In Shifra’s Arms” (ISA), an organization that offers aid to pregnant Jewish women of all religious backgrounds practically, financially and emotionally. Its arms are open to any pregnant woman in need whether single, divorced, separated, or from a financially-strapped family. “Presently, we are […]

Gerstenfeld-032715

Many so-called “humanitarian NGOs” frequently abuse Israel by applying false moral equivalencies

Israeli history now has its version of “Dewey Defeats Truman” with headlines from 2 anti-Bibi papers

In God’s plan why was it necessary that Moses be raised by Pharaoh, away from his own family&people?

In their zechus may we all come to appreciate that life is a fleeting gift and resolve to spend every precious moment of it as if it were the last.

In any event, Mr. Netanyahu after the election sought to soften his statement on Palestinian statehood and apologized for what he conceded were remarks that “offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli Arab community.”

A worthy idea any way you look at it.

There is something quite distinctive about the biblical approach to time.

The Waqf kept control of the Temple Mount due to Dayan’s “magnanimity in victory” after 6 Day war

The event promotes “1 state” solution (end of Israel as a Jewish State), BDS, lawfare against Israel

I rescued you?! You’re doing me a favor letting me help you!

“Tzedakah tatzil mi-mavet: Charity saves from death”; No death & a tax break? Where do I sign up?

More Articles from Rabbi Ephraim S. Sprecher
Sprecher-121914

The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.

Agunot-Shackled and bound women

Rambam: Regarding a husband who refuses to give a Get: “He is beaten until he says, ‘I agree.’ ”

Increased education about the land, the people, and the Torah of Israel is the antidote to today’s confusion.

Why not tell us that Purim is to be commemorated with reading the megillah, dispensing mishloach manot, giving gifts to the poor, and partaking in a Purim feast?

It all comes down to our state of mind.

The Talmud (Berachot 26b) says, “tefillot avot tiknum” – “prayer was established by the avot.” The Talmud then uses the following verse (Bereshit 19:27) to prove how Avraham established prayer: “Vayaskem Avraham baboker el hamakom asher amad sham et pnei Hashem” – “And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before God.”

We have a custom of reciting Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) on the Shabbat during Pesach. Many reasons have been offered to explain why.

The festival of Chanukah celebrates two miracles – the military victory over the Syrian Greeks and that one small cruse of oil, good for one day, providing light for eight days. The miracle of the light, however, is the main focus and central theme of this festival.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-agony-of-agunot/2006/12/27/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: