Knesset marks day of solidarity with agunot

International Agunah Day is a day of solidarity with agunot, ‘chained women’ whose husbands refused them a divorce document required by Jewish law.

The Knesset plenum  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset plenum
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality held a meeting on Wednesday in honor of International Aguna Day, which is marked on the Fast of Esther.
International Aguna Day is a day of solidarity with agunot, “chained women” whose husbands refused them a get, a divorce document required by Jewish law for the women to be able to be considered divorced and to remarry.
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who initiated the meeting, called agunot “a worldwide Jewish problem.”
“Fear and paralysis have stricken our rabbinical courts since the establishment of the state. In this coalition, rabbinical courts moved from the Justice Ministry to the Religious Services Ministry, and women paid the price,” she said.
Committee chairwoman Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said she will never understand a situation in which “women are imprisoned and cannot choose how they live.
“I’d like for there to be civil marriage in this country, but until then, the rabbinical courts must decide that they will not cause this suffering, and will act to free the women. One woman suffering is too much,” she said.
MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), who is the former chairwoman of Mavoi Satum, an organization that helps agunot, mentioned cases in which a father rapes a daughter, and the mother could not get a religious divorce, or cases in which a husband refused to give his wife a divorce unless she gives up all of their joint assets and waives any child support payments.
Zionist Union MK Revital Swid called on the rabbinical courts to decide there will not be any more agunot.
“A decision has to be made [to put men who refuse to give a get in] prison, publicly shame them, or any other way that can stop the abuse,” she suggested.
MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union) wondered why rabbinical courts don’t use the option of annulment in cases in which a husband refuses to give a get.
Rabbinical Courts administrator Rabbi Shimon Yaakovi said annulments are an “illusion,” and that if they were an option, they would have already been used in the time of the Gaonim, nearly 2,000 years ago.
A woman in the committee meeting, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was an aguna for seven years, during which her husband went abroad and refused to speak to anyone about the issue.
“It took four-and-a-half years until [the rabbinical court] even said he is required to give a get...
The worst point was when the head of the court said I was to blame...” she recounted.
“It’s humiliating to stand in front of three rabbinical judges.
After the court required him to give a get and a news story on Channel 2, someone recognized him in America and a rabbi in Chicago helped have a discussion in a rabbinical court there. Only there did I feel that I was taken seriously, that I was seen... They didn’t leave room for manipulations,” she recounted.
Yaakovi said many of the problems are related to judges having heavy workloads, but promised the situation is improving.
The rabbinical courts administrator promised that before Passover begins on April 22, for the first time, he will visit men who were sent to prison for refusing to give gets.
It is not illegal to refuse to give a get, but prison is a sanction rabbinical courts may use.
Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director of ORA – Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, pointed out that the use of halachic prenuptial agreements is becoming more common in the US, and estimated that in 10 years there will no longer be an aguna problem among Modern Orthodox Jews there.