There is a growing movement of Orthodox Jewish women – as well as rabbis – who are speaking out about the agunah crisis in the community and helping chained women be freed. Recently, their efforts culminated in an event organized by Kayla Haber-Goldstein, the author of Questioning the Answers and a social media influencer who has been vocal about the crisis for three years now. The Agunah Asifa, held on August 29 at the Beth El Jewish Center of Flatbush, featured speakers like Haber-Goldstein, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, Rabbi Yaacov Haber and Rebbetzin Faigy Twerski.
“I created the event with the intent to raise awareness,” said Haber-Goldstein. “We wanted to show the agunot that as a community we are here for them, and they are not forgotten. It seems we have accomplished both goals, at least [as] a starting point.”
The room was filled with 200 women protected by security – as well as protestors outside – and the invited speakers. Rebbetzin Twerski talked about how to get through difficult times while maintaining a connection with Hashem, while Rabbi Haber called for achdut, unity, and discussed what it was like for him to be a child caught in the middle of get abuse. He quoted the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said, “You are hurting the people you love.”
Rabbi Weinberger shared tefillah with the women that Hashem deliver them from their pain and validated their unseen struggles. The audience learned about the halacha of gets with a speech from Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, and afterward, Lonna Kin Ralbag, who has been an agunah for 19 years, shared her story and answered questions. The event was widely shared by social media influencers and the video of it is up to 10,000 views on YouTube.
All across social media, women are stepping up to voice their support of agunot and take action. One prominent personality, American Israeli activist and writer Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, who speaks out about women’s rights in the Orthodox Jewish community, believes that much more can be done for women in need.
“I got involved when my aunt was being denied a get and I learned firsthand how powerless a woman is in today’s rabbinic courts,” she said. “I went from rabbis to lawyers to court advocates and members of Knesset to understand the halachic and legal elements that go into a woman being chained in marriage. It turns out that many things that can and should be done simply aren’t, with women being denied or extorted for their freedom on a regular basis.”
Keats Jaskoll believes that get refusal could be eradicated, but it’s up to the community “to decide it is as unkosher as pork. Courts need to stop allowing women to be extorted for their freedom. Halachic prenups must be signed by every couple.”
Haber-Goldstein is also pushing for halachic prenups/postnups, which she said are not foolproof but can address “an extremely large portion of the problem.” There is also accountability being taken in the beit din world, with ratemybeitdin.com, and bylaws that are being passed and adapted by each community. There is a get abuse intolerance letter they’re trying to get every rabbi to sign as well.
“It simply states that if someone is a get-refuser – and it clearly says the conditions needed to be met to qualify – exactly how the rabbi will go about implementing the Seruv,” said Haber-Goldstein.
Along with starting a Tehillim group for the agunot, continuing to talk about the crisis and supporting the women in need, Haber-Goldstein said Ulman is motivated to build a Vaad, with a counsel of rabbis who “make it their business to try and free every agunah, using halacha and the Shulchan Aruch exclusively, but creatively, to secure each woman’s freedom,” she said.
In the meantime, other organizations like Lev Agunot and Ora, as well as individuals, have contacted Haber-Goldstein to tell her about their efforts and figure out how they can collaborate.
She said, “We are working to create a sort of ‘superhero’ team where everyone working on the crisis will continue working on their angle, but together and cohesively so that no agunah falls through the cracks, no one is working twice, and all angles are being solved.”