Is there a coalition to solve the agunah problem?

As “International Agunah Day” approaches, to be marked this year on March 20, 2019, I returned to articles of previous years, composed for that occasion. Indeed, three years ago, on Feb. 23, 2013, the Jerusalem Post published an article I authored with the title “A coalition to solve the agunah problem” – no question mark included.

It is astounding to see that almost every word is unfortunately still applicable today. For example: “Leading up to the elections…The number of female candidates on lists was strutted about alongside what were meant to be fine-sounding explanations by the ultra-Orthodox as to why their list is a men’s club…

If one goes past the lip service to the problem of women’s status and delves deeper into the principle of egalitarianism in rights as well as respect between the genders, one will find that a main root of the problematic situation in Israeli Jewish society is the inability of a woman to freely determine her personal status.”

Actually one shouldn’t be surprised that these very words could be written today, that there is no change in the politics of the agunah problem. A coalition in Israel is generally based on the appeasement of the Ultra-Orthodox parties who do not see women’s empowerment as a positive force in society, let alone solving the agunah problem.

Nevertheless, the truth is, and was:

“The agunah problem is multi-faceted – involving rabbis, the civil family court, the rabbinical court, government ministries and committees, societal mores, individuals and the legislature. It can be solved by each of the aforementioned components first recognizing the problem and then cooperating in a coalition to bring about solutions.”

As I wrote then:

“Now is the time for each of the contenders to the formation of the next government of Israel to take the lead and to relate to the very core of the status of women in a Jewish-democratic state. Espousing progressive views on women’s rights should begin with the very basic – eradicating the agunah problem.”

Yet, then as now, despite the fact that no Jewish woman in Israel is free to change her personal status from married to “remarriageable”, no political party’s platform refers to this existential problem. This is a situation that potentially affects millions of voters! Unfortunately, the reality is that if no one commits to being part of the solution, then there is no need to fulfill a campaign promise that was never made.

Despite the sorry state of affairs, once again on International Agunah Day I still persist in calling upon all the candidates with the same words now as then. Perhaps one of the parties will pick up the ball and run with it – and state their intentions publicly:

“It would behoove each MK to make a public statement regarding the need, and measures they suggest, to ensure that the status of the Jewish woman in Israel is secured so that she has the peace of mind that neither she nor her daughter will become an agunah.”

This time—make a difference!

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; and the first female Rabbinical Court Advocate to serve on the Israel Commission for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges.