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‘For the sins we have committed…’

May the prayer for 'freeing of the chained' be extended to women imprisoned in broken marriages

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of introspection and convergence. They mark the beginning of autumn, with its cool winds, accompanied by solemnness and gloomy thoughts.

From time to time I meet friends on the street or at the synagogue who say to me: “The work you are doing at Yad L’isha is so important! Kol Hakavod – well done!”

And I think to myself – did I really do all that I could?

A memory suddently pops out from the recesses of my mind, a woman to whom I once said, “Trust me, don’t worry. You will get your divorce before this year is over…” But the year went by, and then another, and another, and she still has no get

Anat. I see her face in my mind’s eye. She is my age and shares a similar background, she has a large family – like me – and her children are the same age as my own. But fate has placed us in very different situations; she is alone, trapped in the bonds of a marriage she cannot escape.

Anat’s husband was an officer in an elite reconnaissance unit of the army when he married her, the prettiest girl in the class.  She didn’t say a word when he started hitting her, but when he began to abuse the children she filed for a divorce. He promptly fled the country, leaving her an aguna. A widow, whose husband is alive.

At first he maintained contact with his family, but when his friends asked him to grant his wife a get, the religious writ of divorce which would set her free, he disappeared. Occasionally, people reported bumping into him in various corners of the world, and private detectives and rabbinical court emissaries did manage to track him down. But time and time again, as soon as he realized he had been discovered, he moved on, once again eluding justice.

My colleagues and I at Yad L’isha successfully represent hundreds of agunot and mesuravot get each year, and we have brought tens more their freedom from recalcitrant, runaway husbands overseas. We have resolved the most complex cases, we have saved women as young as 17 and as old as 70, and we have unchained women who had been locked in marriage for ten years and more. But whenever I close another case, whenever I reflect on our successes, I see Anat’s face hovering in front of me, and I hear her voice saying, “But you promised…”

Yes, I admit it. I promised a promise I have not yet been able to keep. But I have not given up. Once we despair, we have lost our right to exist in this world.

May our daily prayer for “matir asurim” –  the “freeing of the chained” – be augmented as we enter into this Sabbatical (shmitta) year, marked by the dictum: “you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land.”

May this liberty also be extended to women like Anat.

Gmar Chatima Tova – May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

About the Author
Osnat is a rabbinical court advocate and attorney who serves as director of Yad L'isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network.