It is time for Matan Kahana to address the issue of agunot - opinion

Historians will look back on this period of our history and be perplexed. How did the State of Israel, founded on the dream of freedom, end up being the engine of women’s imprisonment?

 Mavoi Satum protest.  (photo credit: MAVOI SATUM SPOKESPERSON)
Mavoi Satum protest.
(photo credit: MAVOI SATUM SPOKESPERSON)

‘Because we all deserve to be free.” That’s the slogan of the latest Mavoi Satum crowdfunding campaign, which went live this week. It is a play on the words of “Hatikvah;” the dream of 2,000 years, to be a free people in our own land.

The shock for one in five Israeli women who try to divorce is that they discover they are not truly free. Their freedom is conditional. Conditional upon the agreement of their husband, no matter how outrageous his demands.

It doesn’t matter if he abused her and her children for years. It doesn’t matter if he is a convicted pedophile. It doesn’t matter if he tried to kill her. It certainly doesn’t matter if she just doesn’t love him anymore. It doesn’t matter if she got married in Cyprus in a completely secular ceremony. It doesn’t matter if he has a girlfriend, another child, or is even married again. It doesn’t matter if he is completely insane or in a coma.

It doesn’t matter if he is a convicted criminal and has fled the country with every shekel they ever had. It doesn’t matter if she is raising her children alone, and struggling to provide for them. It doesn’t matter if she’s uneducated or a hi-tech engineer. It doesn’t matter if she is well off or impoverished. It doesn’t matter if she is haredi or Modern Orthodox, traditional or secular, Ashkenazi or Sephardi.

It only matters that she’s a woman and he’s a man, and she is completely subject to his will. Unable to marry and forbidden to have children with anyone else. His. Forever.

 Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana attends a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana attends a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Those are the plain facts and it effects thousands of women. There are the media horror stories: women like Korrina, who is still waiting for a divorce after 33 years, or Liana, whose husband tried to kill her and still refused to free her. But also think of the women you know who got divorced. You never know their settlement. Many of them had to give up something for their freedom. That is considered a “success” in the eyes of the rabbinate. A get (halachic divorce) by “agreement.” A universal tax on women’s freedom. An abrogation of their basic human rights. And all of it is hidden away in the back rooms of the rabbinate where we know it is dark and dirty but we don’t like to look.

Yes, it is complicated and yes, it does involve Halacha. But don’t let anyone tell you that there are no halachic solutions. There are so many solutions. Solutions put forward and implemented throughout the ages – by King David in ancient times, by Maimonides in the Middle Ages, by rabbis in Saloniki in the 1800s, by Sephardi chief rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel at the founding of the state, by Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, by the Rabbinical Council of America, which won’t marry a couple without a prenuptial agreement, by thousands of rabbis today who recommend prenups.

It is not about a lack of halachic solutions, it is about a lack of rabbinic will. It is about power and control, and the failure of the State of Israel to protect women against religious discrimination.

Right now, we have a historic window of opportunity to make legislative change on this issue. Matan Kahana, the current religious services minister, has proven resolute in his willingness to address rabbinate strangleholds over kashrut and conversion. Addressing the aguna crisis must be next on this list.

This is a man-made problem with myriad solutions. It all depends on who is running the show and whether the state calls those people to account; whether it qualifies its mandate of control it has granted to the rabbinate, or mandates prenuptial agreements to protect women; whether it regulates the timely handling of divorce hearings regarding the get, or whether it introduces women representatives into the religious courts – and that is just a few of the legislative options.

I am convinced that historians will look back on this period of our history and be perplexed. How did the State of Israel, founded on the dream of freedom, end up being the engine of women’s imprisonment? How did the public ever stand for it?

If any of this bothers you, I urge you, don’t put down this paper and sigh. Open your browser and type in “Mavoisatum.org.” Give to the campaign. Sign up to host an awareness evening. Share this information with everyone you know.

May our daughters and their children never suffer this. Instead, may they look back on this period of Israel’s history and wonder: “Savta, Saba, is it really true that women were not free for the first 70 years of the State of Israel?” The choice is in your hands.

The writer is CEO of WorkWell and chair of Mavoi Satum.