Cage in Haifa highlights the struggle of women trapped in divorce

The cage was decorated with living room furniture meant to invoke a sense of home, and the visitors who stepped inside were asked to imagine the constricted world of an aguna.

By STEPHANIE WASSERMAN
July 16, 2019 14:02
2 minute read.
Cage in Haifa highlights the struggle of women trapped in divorce

The cage in Haifa. (photo credit: YAD L'ISHA)

An unusual installation placed in the center of Haifa’s Paris Square puzzled onlookers last week, as they were surprised to see a large cage accompanied by a sign inviting them to enter inside of it.

The cage was decorated with living room furniture meant to invoke a sense of home, and the visitors who stepped inside were asked to imagine the constricted world of an aguna-a woman trapped into marriage by a husband who refused to divorce her.

The purpose of the installation, placed by Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, a division of the Ohr Torah Network, was to raise public awareness to the plight of agunot who live seemingly everyday lives, yet are not truly independent or free. The reason for its placement in Haifa was to share with locals the news that Yad La'isha has now opened a new branch to serve trapped agunot women throughout northern Israel.

The northern branch joins three existing branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beersheva, through which women rabbinical court advocates, lawyers and social workers represent an average of 150 agunot per year in the rabbinical courts and fight for their freedom and rehabilitation, while also offering free legal assistance to another approximately 700 women who are in the process of divorce. During the past two months, Yad La'isha freed five longtime agunot from northern Israel from their husbands' chains.

The new branch will be directed by Yad La'isha rabbinical court advocate and civil attorney Tehilla Cohen, who explained the importance of having a support system for agunot across the country: "I wish every woman a happy marital life. But unfortunately, sometimes marriages are not happy, and then the situation can arise where a stubborn husband decides to torture his wife and abuse her, not necessarily physically, but mentally, by refusing to grant her the divorce needed by Jewish law and thereby keeping her trapped in a prison cell, unable to leave freely and begin a new life. Our job is to do everything in our power to help these women and assist them in receiving their coveted divorce, as quickly as possible."

A (name withheld for privacy), who has been denied a divorce for over three years, was present at the installation in Haifa. She has been raising her children alone while working full time, and is still working to attain full custody.

" I haven't had time to think about myself, my own life. I didn't share my story, but now the time has come. I could have chosen to sink, but I chose to stand firm and continue living. If there is even the slightest chance that my choice to speak now will provide strength to other women going through the same cycle to stand up and fight for their freedom, then I will have succeeded."

Pnina Omer, director of Ohr Torah Stone's Yad La'isha hopes that these cages will provide people with a glimpse into the life of captivity experienced by agunot around the world. 

"We have to release agunot from their cages," Omer said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the numbers are large, and the phenomenon is widespread. Today, agunot from northern Israel also have somewhere to turn.”


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