A Truly International Agunah Day

The deplorable phenomenon in Judaism of the “chained woman” – the agunah – has been repeatedly reported on these pages. Articles have been published, rallies have been held, conferences convened and solutions have been promoted – almost all in centers of Jewish life located in the US and Israel.

However, this year a burst of new energy is radiating from the Southern hemisphere.

Unchain My Heart was formed in 2014 as a coalition of Jewish women’s organizations in Melbourne. Labeling the lack of justice for the woman in Jewish divorce proceedings as a human rights issue of modern times, president of the coalition, Susie Ivany, has clarified that the exact numbers of agunot in Australia are not known.

Nevertheless, after witnessing assimilation due to estrangement and negation of personal freedom of women who did not receive a get, a coalition was formed in Australia in order to assist Jewish women who were divorced in civil court, to receive a halakhic divorce as well.

So we see that the agunah problem plagues the Jewish community the world-over, from the smallest Jewish community, until the two largest ones in Israel and the US. In 2014, the then Chief Rabbi of Uruguay, Rabbi Bentzion Spitz, instituted a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal in that South American country after having felt the anguish of an agunah whose life has been ruined. To make the point even clearer – years ago one of the last remaining Jews in Afghanistan made his wife an agunah!

Both in the US and in Israel, two halachic prenups, respectively of the Beth Din of America  and the Agreement for Mutual Respect disseminated by the International Young Israel Movement in Israel have been proven to be one hundred percent effective in convincing recalcitrant husbands to give a get to their wives.

Indeed the agunah problem has implications for generations.  A victim of get-refusal is not able to rebuild her life, enter into a new marriage and bring more children into the world, for fear of them stigmatized as mamzerim – thus unable to marry within the Jewish community.  Thus the number of Jews added to the Jewish people is not reaching its full potential. Those who open their eyes to this problem will realize that this has an exponential affect.

Refreshingly, this year the Australian coalition of Unchain My Heart  has reached out to advocacy groups internationally. International Agunah Day, March 9, 2020, is witnessing multiple organizations spreading the word “Get Your Gett”.

International Agunah Day is the day to reach out to your contacts personally and join together, as Unchain My Heart has done on an organizational level. By joining together the whole of the effort is greater than the sum of its parts. Offer assistance to an agunah, or give her strength; see to it that all marrying couples you know sign a prenuptial agreement; spread the word on facebook about the halachic prenup ; demand of your rabbi to be active in resolving the agunah problem for all Jewish women. You can save a life by doing so.

About the Author
Rachel Levmore, PhD in Talmud and Jewish Law from Bar Ilan University, is the director of the Agunah and Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency; one of the authors of the prenuptial "Agreement for Mutual Respect"; author of "Min'ee Einayich Medim'a" on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal; member of Beit Hillel-Attentive Spiritual Leadership; and the first female Rabbinical Court Advocate to serve on the Israel Commission for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges.
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