Scholars: Program to tackle agunot issue

UK academics propose a global 'road map' to help resolve problem, including an advance get.

agunot protest 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
agunot protest 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Academics at a British university claim to have devised a more comprehensive approach to the problem of agunot - Jewish women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce. The Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester has put together a "road map" that it says will resolve the issue. The researchers conducted a study, searching religious texts to find ways around the problem that has trapped hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish women across the world. Over the centuries, Jewish leaders have agonized over the plight of agunot, but have not been able to find consensus in religious law. The Manchester scholars' interpretation of the law is accompanied by a series of recommendations involving conditional marriage and an advance get (religious divorce) and annulment, which would be gradually implemented in Jewish communities. Previous attempts to solve the problem, by making statutory modifications to civil divorce or signing prenuptial agreements, have failed to provide the "global solution" the academics are seeking. The academics' recommendations, which they say are conditional on the appropriate rabbinic approvals, include special counseling for couples getting engaged, to make them aware of the risks and the many different interpretations of Jewish law. The academics have also looked at the modification of betrothal procedures, based on their research of ancient and modern Jewish texts. They will also recommend outlawing the possibility of using get-denial as an instrument of extortion, and setting up a worldwide record of the halachic attitudes of different communities, to be maintained by an independent body. Once the new program becomes accepted and more widespread, the academics said there should be a meeting of rabbinic leaders to make the recommendations standard practice across the world by enacting a takana (edict). When a Jewish man refuses to give his wife a religious divorce, if she enters into a new relationship, she is considered an adulteress, and any children she has by that or subsequent relationships are considered mamzerim - a permanent status of illegitimacy that, according to Halacha, also affects future generations. By contrast, the children of men who remarry without divorcing are not deemed mamzerim, as long as their mothers are not considered married to another man. "There is no single magic bullet to solve the problem," said Prof. Bernard Jackson, the director of the Manchester center's research. "Indeed, our proposals may commend themselves initially only to particular Orthodox communities. "But religious mobility will result in the presentation of our - or similar - formulae to more traditional communities, who may be prepared to accept their effects ex post facto, even if initially they would not recommend it to their own members."