America’s pain and the aguna’s chain

Each aguna story represents a woman (or man) trapped in a lonely world of frustration and bitterness, bordering on cruelty.

August 28, 2019 17:24
America’s pain and the aguna’s chain

Each aguna story represents a woman (or man) trapped in a lonely world of frustration and bitterness, bordering on cruelty. (photo credit: PUBLICDOMAINPICTURES.NET)

One of the IDF’s quirkiest practices in recent skirmishes with our enemies – some would call it merciful, others would consider it madness – is the act of “knocking on the roof” before actually bombing. That is, sending a warning shot prior to the main attack, thus letting the inhabitants know that they had better vamoose before their homes become their graves.

Well, it seems to me that a “warning shot” of another type has been fired in our direction, in the form of the devious, well-conceived mission/non-mission plot of Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. As happens all too often to us, we were railroaded into a no-win situation by the dastardly duo: Allow their visit and watch them demonize us at every possible venue, or deny their entry and be accused of authoritarian rule and disdain for the US Congress. Forced to choose between these two odious options, our government made the right choice in barring them; I don’t want any Jew-hating, Jew-baiting adversaries of Israel maligning me on my own home turf. Let them rant in their own backyard.

But what was scarier than the charade itself was the subsequent reaction to it – the caustic anti-Netanyahu (read: anti-Israel) comments of our supposed friends in the Democratic Party, as well as the squirming of various and sundry American Jewish organizations, caught squarely and uncomfortably in the American Jew vs Jewish American quagmire. Professing loyalty to the exile you currently live in while maintaining your devotion to the one Jewish homeland across the ocean is a tricky tango, and more than a few of our fellow Jews misstepped. They flagrantly failed to heed the Godfather’s central credo – “Never take sides against the family” – and virtually all of them tried passing the buck to President Donald Trump. He came in handy as the scapegoat – we’re all too familiar ourselves with that role – and it was easy enough to blame him for the whole debacle, especially if you’re already suffering from MTD (Mad at Trump Disease).

No doubt we will dodge the bullet this time around, and the fury will die down. But the events cast a dark shadow on the days to come. What will happen if and when America takes a position that is clearly against the existential interests of Israel? What if, for example, a future Democratic administration (one that, it is to be hoped, comes well after the Trump and Nikki Haley administrations) decides to allow Iran to openly achieve a nuclear capability? What if they summarily choose to dismantle the US Embassy in Jerusalem, to embrace the Palestinian cause and to unilaterally declare the entire Old City of Jerusalem under Muslim authority, just as Trump affirmed Jewish control over the Golan Heights? What if American and Israeli policies cease to dovetail, as they conveniently have done for most of Israel’s history? On what side of the divide will American Jewry stand?
It may be only a matter of time until Simon and Garfunkel’s prophetic warning chillingly becomes all too real for those Jews with a foot on two different continents: “Laugh about it, shout about it, when you’ve got to choose; every way you look at it you lose.”

ON ANOTHER subject that raised more than a few eyebrows, the Israeli rabbinate – or at least Chief Rabbi David Lau – appeared to take an unexpectedly bold, unprecedented stand on behalf of agunot, women “chained” to husbands who refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce. Lau’s supposed order to prevent the burial of a “get” (Jewish divorce document) refuser’s mother, until the divorce was given, cheered many an activist in the fight for marital freedom. And though it now appears that all was for naught, with the allegedly recalcitrant Meir Kin having once again reneged on the deal, the very suggestion that such action could be taken was a burst of light in a dark saga.

Just how many agunot are currently waiting for their marriages to be dissolved so they can remarry halachically is not clear; the estimates range from several hundred to several thousand. But even one case is too many, as each story represents a woman (or man) trapped in a lonely world of frustration and bitterness, bordering on cruelty.

I remember vividly walking into the shiva (mourning) house of a woman friend some years ago, and being immediately handed a glass of champagne and a party hat. The woman had fought unsuccessfully for a get for many years, and then her husband suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack. As she was still technically married to him, the Halacha (Jewish law) required her to observe the full rites of mourning. But while she did indeed comply, it was the happiest, most festive shiva ever held!

There was another celebrated incident of a man who had long refused his wife a get. He then took a liking to a beautiful, charismatic young lady who had begun working in his office. After several dates, they began to talk seriously about marriage. He then confided that, technically, he was still married to another woman. The young lady reacted forcefully, telling him that while she had feelings for him, she could not and would not continue their relationship until he severed his ties with his ex-wife. The man, who by now was falling in love, decided to finally issue the divorce.

The next morning, there was a note on his desk. “Dear XX. I’m glad you did the right thing by providing the get. I respect that. But as for our relationship, that is over. I am a professional actress; I was hired by the family to, let us say, ‘persuade’ you to finally right the wrong. You’ll never see me again.”

Halacha is a well-defined system; it has its boundaries and its borders. But human creativity has no limits, and we must use all our creative powers to solve this nagging problem. We, too, must do the right thing.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.

Related Content

September 22, 2019
September 22, 2019: Typical EU