Women’s rights groups mark International Agunah Day

Taanit Esther selected as date which will unite 27 organizations working to promote solutions for “chained” women in accordance with Halacha.

Haredi woman working 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Haredi woman working 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The International Coalition for Agunah Rights organization will be marking International Agunah Day on Thursday, calling attention to the plight of women whose husbands are unable or unwilling to grant them a Jewish divorce (get).
The day on the Jewish calendar selected by ICAR, which unites 27 organizations working to promote solutions for “chained” women in accordance with Halacha, is Taanit Esther, the fast for the biblical heroine who was key in saving the Jews in ancient Persia.
Esther, explained Batya Kahana-Dror, the head of the group Mavoi Satum, was a prisoner of sorts in a marriage she didn’t want.
Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, who processes aguna cases in the Rabbinic Courts, told a recent Knesset committee meeting that his courts are currently taking care of 120 agunot, though only 20 of the recalcitrant husbands are in Israel. Rabbinic courts can sentence such men to prison, and deny them other rights.
But to Kahana-Dror, any woman who feels she is not getting her divorce as swiftly as she expects it is considered a chained woman whose rights are being denied.
Kahana-Dror says that many men take advantage of the fact that according to Jewish law, they must grant the divorce and must do so out of their free will. They often precondition their will on blackmailing their wives for money, or by pressuring them to renounce their share of joint property.
According to Kahana-Dror, one of every five women getting divorced testifies to such a injustice. If in the year 2009 some 17,000 divorce files were opened, that means that in that year alone 3,400 women were added to the Mavoi Satum’s list of chained women.
It is hard for her to say how many such cases end with the woman receiving a divorce, but Kahana-Dror cites a study by the Bar-Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status, according to which between 1995-2008, 40,000 divorce cases that were opened were not closed.
“The rabbinate does not realize the scope of the problem,” she said.
The solution, says Kahana-Dror, can either be the rabbinate forcing recalcitrant husbands to give divorces, as was the custom since the time of the Mishna. Nowadays, she says, rabbinic courts are afraid to force men to give divorces, out of the concern that the divorce would not be valid if the man does not wholeheartedly want to give a get.
“They fear that such a move would create inadequate divorces, which would result in bastards being born from ensuing relationships, though it is not a problem and it can be done,” Kahana-Dror said.
Another solution being promoted by ICAR is prenuptial agreements, which impose financial penalties on the recalcitrant party, thus providing a financial incentive not to refuse a divorce.