An aguna work around

Make your traditional Jewish marriage just, modern and contingent upon living together as husband and wife.

love marriage wedding (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
love marriage wedding
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
How should we marry our daughters to our sons? In accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel? With huppa, kiddushin and the local rabbi? In a Reform ceremony? Or perhaps with a justice of the peace in Turkey? Should we serve humus or gefilte fish? When I got married (a long, long, long time ago), this was not a hard question to answer. As an upstanding member of the tribe, I played by the rules. Huppa, groom-gives-ring to-bride, bride does not give ring to groom, and the full seven rotations-around-the-groom thing. Gefilte fish (I'm Ashkenazi). It was quaint, authentic, and how my mother, and her mother before her, had gotten married. But I am a lot smarter now, having devoted my adult professional life to trying to resolve the problem of the aguna, which I prefer to refer to as "the problem of Jewish women and divorce." And there's the rub. It's not an isolated, can't-happen-to-me aguna problem. It is the problem that lies in wait for every good Jewish girl who marries a good Jewish boy in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony. Because ceremonies are not just about culture. Whether to eat humus or gefilte fish. Or whether to wear the Yemenite headdress and mark yourself with henna. Ceremonies have legal consequences. If you get married in an Orthodox ceremony, you can't get divorced until your husband says: "I do." If you commit adultery, the children of your illicit love will be stigmatized. Your husband's won't. Your property is your husband's (more or less), and your husband's property is his. If your husband is missing in action, or becomes a vegetable, you can remain married to him forever. It is these legal consequences that compelled Dr. Chana Kahat, past head of Kolech, an Orthodox organization lobbying for the improved status of women in Judaism, to make the following statement in a recent public address: If you aren't Orthodox, don't get married in an Orthodox ceremony. What for? (- writer's translation and paraphrase). BUT CEREMONIES are also about identity. During rites of passage - like birth, death, marriage - we tend to affirm our roots, who we are, and where we come from. This is not a little thing. Wars have been waged around it. So, it seems to me, it is in this spirit that Rachel Keren, the current head of Kolech, denounced Chana Kahat and made the following statement (also paraphrased by this writer): Don't throw the baby (the huppa) out with the bathwater (the aguna quagmire). So what should a bride-to-be do if she wants to have her proverbial wedding cake, and eat it too; if she wants an aguna-free, authentic, tribe-like, identity-affirming-wedding? Is this possible? We at the Center for Women's Justice (CWJ) think it is. With some sophisticated legal and halachic footwork (we lawyers love these sorts of moves), it's possible to make your traditional Jewish marriage just, modern, and contingent upon living together as husband and wife. If after living apart for 18 months, your husband still won't give you a get, don't worry. An agent will give you one in his stead. Just sign CWJ's "Contract for a Just Marriage" (a very serious document based on the very serious and well-thought-through "tripartite agreement" recommended by an Orthodox halachic legal scholar). Such legal and halachic maneuvers (there are others) are essential to those of us who insist on both roots and justice. We do not want to choose. But if our leaders do not respond soon in support of suggestions like the "Contract for a Just Marriage," we mothers and fathers of our Jewish daughters will have no choice but to order sushi for the main course at our children's weddings. Sign our petition requesting our religious leaders to support the "Contract for a Just Marriage." The writer is the founder and executive director of the Center for Women's Justice. The Contract for a Just Marriage can be seen at: