Photo Credit: Jewish Press
Agunot-Shackled and bound women

Last year, in marking international Agunah Day, amazing results were reported on these pages (“U.S. Agunot Have Reason To Celebrate,” The Jewish Press, Feb 18, 2021), demonstrating the efficacy of a temporary law in Israel. Known colloquially as the “Diaspora Agunot Law,” the Israeli Rabbinical Courts were assigned legal jurisdiction over husbands entering Israel who have refused to give their wives a get. This, even in the extreme case where neither the husband nor the wife having any legal ties to the State of Israel – neither citizenship nor residency nor the like.

At that point in time, over 100 agunot had submitted petitions to the Israeli Rabbinical Courts to summon their husbands to court, to ask for a restraining order against them, or even to levy sanctions until they would agree to arrange a get. Due to the implementation of the temporary law, the Israeli Rabbinical Courts succeeded in arranging a get for 57 women from around the world!

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Fortunately for agunot in the U.S. and elsewhere, during 2021 the “Diaspora Agunot Law” was passed as a permanent law by the Knesset, as an amendment to the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, 1953. All agunot living in the Diaspora should be made aware of this development and make preparations should their recalcitrant husband visit Israel. Even if one feels hopeless and is convinced that the get-refuser would never come to Israel, it is worthwhile to take the following steps. Indeed, Rabbinical Courts in Europe have succeeded in convincing heretofore get-refusers to give a get due to the very existence of the law and the fact of rising antisemitism; even subconsciously, a Jew wants to keep open the option of making a quick and clean exit to Israel if it becomes necessary. History has taught us that.

The law lists several possibilities which would allow an agunah with no connection to Israel to file suit in Israel. One scenario is that no Orthodox rabbinical court exists in the region where the couples resides. If the agunah did turn to a local rabbinical court, four months of non-compliance to a summons on the part of the husband is required. Or, if a rabbinical court ruled that a husband should give a get and six months have passed without resulting in one being issued, the case would also qualify for a suit to be brought. Therefore, in these cases, all agunot should have their rabbinical court prepare a ruling or a letter in Hebrew describing the husband’s non-compliance. This document should be available for the agunah to use at a moment’s notice.

When the suit is filed, it must be delivered to the recalcitrant husband in Israel. In addition, for the case to be heard in Israel, the civil divorce suit in the couple’s place of residence must have been initiated or even concluded. The jurisdiction of the Israeli Rabbinical Court regarding the get does not prevent the couple’s local civil court from adjudicating the civil divorce.

A suit filed in compliance with the details of the Diaspora Agunot Law is treated expeditiously with a good chance of ending in a get. Finally, even agunot who have lost hope can take action to prepare for the possibility of the get-refuser entering Israeli jurisdiction. If he does – don’t hesitate! Move forward immediately with the help of an Israeli attorney or rabbinical court advocate. The State of Israel, as a Jewish country, helps to solve the problem of agunot the world over. Get ready!

(Written in honor of International Agunah Day, Ta’anit Esther)

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Rachel Levmore (Ph.D. in Jewish Law from Bar Ilan University) is a rabbinical court advocate; director of the Agunah and Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency (iyim.org.il/prenup); first to’enet rabbanit member of the Israel State Commission for the Appointment of Dayanim; and author of "Min'ee Einayich Medim'a" on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal.