(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On on Tuesday delivered a petition containing almost 25,000 signatures, to President Moshe Katsav on behalf of the National Council of Jewish Women of America.
The petition, which calls for the enactment of legislation which will free agunot (women chained in marriage because their husbands refuse to divorce them) from bondage, was brought to Israel in May, 2006 by an NCJW delegation headed by NCJW President Phyllis Snyder.
NCJW organizations in countries around the world have long concerned themselves with finding solutions to the aguna problem that affects women from all streams of Judaism.
In Israel, where there is no civil divorce, the situation is even more crucial than it is for Jewish women in other countries, where those who are Jewish in name only, will often be satisfied with a civil divorce which they can generally obtain regardless of the opposition of their husbands.
But those who practice Judaism, even to a minor extent, will hesitate to remarry if they have only a civil divorce but no religious divorce. For one thing it will be difficult to get a Rabbi to agree to perform the ceremony, and secondly no woman wants to taint her children even before they are conceived.
Children born to a woman who was married and did not receive a get - a Jewish bill of divorce - will automatically be labeled mamzerim (bastards) if their father is not the woman's husband.
This puts severe restrictions on their ability to marry in later life. According to Jewish law they cannot marry anyone but another mamzer.
NCJW is one of numerous organizations in the Jewish world that concern themselves with the aguna problem.
When Snyder presented the petition to Gal-On she declared that the inability of Jewish wives to free themselves from intolerable marriages denies them legal equality and is a grave violation of their basic human rights.
Some 100,000 agunot in Israel whose lives are on hold while they wait for their husbands to change their minds, Gal-On told Katsav.
She asked the president to convene a large-scale convention on their behalf to which rabbinical experts, representatives of all women's organizations and all organizations dealing with agunot would be invited.
The President acquiesced to Gal-On's request.