A 16th Century Sephardi Torah scroll at the museum.
(photo credit: JUDITH SUDILOVSKY)
Ta’anit Ester (The Fast of Esther) which falls on the 13th of Adar (this year on the 13th day of Adar 2) was established in 1990 by ICAR – The International Coalition for Agunah Rights – as International Agunah Day. The main purpose was to raise awareness of the plight of agunot (women “chained” to their marriage) and work toward solving the problem. Recently, for instance, the unfortunate case of an agunah here in Israel, the wife of Dr. Oded Gez, surfaced, and received widespread coverage in the press and in the social media.
In the summer of 2006, I composed a “Mi Sheberach” prayer for agunot in Hebrew, entitled “Mi she-Berakh Prayer for Agunot and Women who are Denied a Writ of Divorce (mesorvot get).” The prayer, first published in the De’ot journal prior to Purim 2007, circulated also on the Internet.
It gained acceptance in a short while, and has since come to be recited in synagogues throughout the Jewish world on the Shabbat preceding the fast of Esther. A suitable place for its recitation is following the “Mi Sheberach” prayer for IDF soldiers. The prayer is likewise recited on Ta’anit Ester itself.
The Hebrew version of the prayer was subsequently reprinted in the monumental Sefer ha-Shabbat, edited by Yonadav Kaploun and issued by Yediot Aharonot in 2011 (p. 260).
The prayer is based for the most part upon biblical, talmudic and midrashic sources, and to a small extent on later sources.
Following is my own English translation of the prayer, published for the first time. It is a free rendering of the Hebrew, preserving all of its main elements.
The Agunah Prayer He Who Blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our foremothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, may He remember and consider favorably all the women who are agunot and who are denied a writ of divorce, help, shield and save them, and release them from their confinement to grant them a new life this day.
God who answers in times of trouble, who redeems and rescues in times of woe, may He answer the women who are bound in living widowhood, hear their outcries, and nullify the intentions of those husbands who refuse to give their wives a writ of divorce. For He is the God of all flesh, nothing is too wondrous for Him.
Our sisters, the daughters of Israel, who are in distress and bondage, may the Omnipresent One have mercy upon them, and deliver them from distress to relief, and from darkness to light.
May God who releases prisoners from their chains, place in the hearts of the judges of Israel the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and valor, the spirit of devotion and fear of God, that they may free from their fetters all the agunot and women who have been refused a writ of divorce by their husbands, so that the Divine Presence will rise from her dust, since whoever frees one agunah it is as though he built one of the ruins of supernal Jerusalem.
And may the biblical verse be fulfilled in them, “And call upon Me on a day of distress, I will rescue you and you will honor Me.”
May the King of Kings stand at their side, exalt them, bring them recovery and healing, and may they endure no more despair and brokenheartedness.
And may they merit to establish faithful homes in Israel.
Because this entire holy congregation is praying on their behalf; now, speedily, and at a near time, and let us say, Amen.
The writer holds a PhD from the Talmud Department of Bar-Ilan University.