On August 10, 2018, we began the Hebrew month of Elul. This is traditionally a period of deep introspection, as we prepare to enter the judgement of the High Holy Days.
Recently, I had an extended discussion with a friend who is currently an Agunah, literally chained woman – a woman whose husband (in this case a very abusive one) has refused to give her the Get – the Jewish writ of Divorce. According to Jewish Law, a woman cannot re-marry without receiving a Get from her husband. If she were to do so, she would be considered guilty of adultery, which in Torah law is the case of a married woman who has relations with a man not her husband. This law says nothing about the state of the man, and in fact he is free to marry again as he wishes, irrespective of his resolution of this issue with his first wife.
Some Batei Din, Rabbinic Courts, have found ways to resolve this issue, in limited cases. But this is far from universal, and is not currently supported in the halakha, or Jewish Law. So how do we resolve this?
The Conservative Movement established the Lieberman Clause in the Ketubah, or marriage contract. This specified that if the couple divorce in civil court, the woman is considered to be freed religiously from her marriage. This is not widely accepted, however, and even in the Conservative Movement, Mesaderei Gittin, Rabbis who prepare and transmit the Get are used.
I am calling on the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement, The Orthodox Union, all Batei Din and Poskei Halakha (those who determine Jewish Law), to find a way to end Aginut. There should never be another Agunah in this world, and in my opinion, any Beit Din that would leave a woman tied to an abusive husband is guilty of Shefikhat Damim, or spilling blood.
So these courts need to use every tool at hand to compel the recalcitrant husband, be it with public shaming, herem (excommunication), civil suits for breach of contract (failing to pay the Ketubah amount specified in divorce), etc. Further Poskei Halakha should find a way to change the law so that if the recalcitrant husband will not issue a Get, the Beit Din will.
Leaving a woman without any financial or other support, unable to re-marry or afford food and rent, because of what amounts to a “good old boys club” is reprehensible, and is, in fact a true Hillul HaShem, a desecration of God’s name. I pray that this month of Elul brings a change to the ways of doing things, so that in the coming New Year, there never be another Agunah.