There exists a problem in Judaism today that represents the decaying of one of our core values as a Jewish nation. We are told time and again to be compassionate and charitable to those in need. Yet, in our day there are Jewish women suffering emotional, psychological and at times physical abuse while trapped in a helpless situation and they feel alone and forgotten.
I am referring to the plight of the Agunah.
Today, most agunot are women whose husbands refuse to divorce them according to Jewish law. They retain the status of a married women and cannot move forward in their life. The agunah is imprisoned in her marriage against her will. Many stories have made the news in recent years due to a few caring and devoted people who are trying very hard to promote awareness so that we can begin to repair this problem.
“International Agunah Day” was established over a decade ago and is observed worldwide on Taanit Esther. Agunot and Esther share much in common. Esther was coerced into marrying King Achashveirosh and was in essence chained in her marriage. So too the Agunah is chained in a marriage she no longer wants to be in. Esther lived in fear, hiding her personal background. The Agunot live in fear of their spouses and are forced to conceal many aspects of their lives. Furthermore, just like Esther, the agunah lacks control of her freedom.
The life that Esther led was lonely and depressing with the knowledge that she was destined to suffer the remainder of her days in a marriage that she longed to escape. A Jewish woman married to a Jewish man in todays day and age should never have to know this type of suffering. The laws were instituted to protect women, yet some evil men use those same laws to make their wives suffer. It is a disgrace to the spirit and intention of halacha and an embarrassment to our faith.
In the Talmud it is stated that Esther requested to be remembered by future generations through the inclusion of her story in the Book of Books: “Ester sent to the sages: Record me for all the generations … Inscribe me for all the generations” (Talmud Bavli, Megilla 7a).
In Esther’s life she felt abandoned and forgotten. Her insistence that her story be told forevermore sends us a message today that should not be overlooked. Esther’s voice can be heard thousands of years later pleading the cause of the agunah. We couldn’t do anything for Esther in her day, but we can honor her memory today. We must stop this desecration that is now being inflicted upon too many of our women. We can not be complacent. We can start by first teaching our children the need to love and respect each other and never impinge on anyone’s rights no matter what ones gripes may be. Marriage, in particular should be the epitome of that kind of relationship. Once the child becomes of marriageable age they must be informed of the halachic prenup. They should understand that this is a crucial step that two people who care about each other will take. We should insist this be done until it becomes normative practice in Judaism. We as a Jewish community must protest get refusers. There exists an amazing Organization called ORA ( The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot ) They work on resolving cases of get-refusal and prevent future cases by promoting the universal adoption of halachic prenuptial agreements. It is important to sign up to ORA’s email list which will inform you when there will be protests so you can help make a difference.
We must not tolerate this behavior from recalcitrant husbands and we must find a way in our halachic system to help these women who seem to have no recourse. It is not only our duty as compassionate Jews, but it is the least we can do to honor the woman who is responsible for our existence today.