Matir Agunot – An Imaginary Drama

Amidst the current discussions of the relationship between religion and state in Israel, Israeli viewers may think that they are being given an opportunity (in twelve episodes) to witness what goes on behind closed doors in the State Rabbinical Court in cases of husband disappearance, where the wives are agunot, and severe cases of get-refusal, where the wives are mesuravot-get. However, those who turn to Kan 11 – Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (which has thus far screened three episodes) for that purpose will be disappointed. Those that are searching for a drama involving the personal lives of the ultra-Orthodox, may be entertained.

Matir Agunot – Unchained (English title), starring  Avraham Aviv Alush as Rabbi Yoseph Morad, tells the story of an employee of the Rabbinical Courts whose role is to convince get-refusers to agree to divorce their wives by the giving a halakhic writ of divorce—the get. Indeed, the message that the power is in the hands of the husband to dissolve a marriage even if his wife has filed for divorce many years ago; even if he abandoned her and left Israel; even if she is carrying another man’s child who will be categorized as a mamzer – that message does get across. That raising of consciousness is worthy of recognition.

However, as the creators of the show (Tamar KayYossi MadmoniDavid Ofek) state in a white on black screen, the drama is the fruit of the creators’ imagination. Indeed, the focus is on the main character’s inner turmoil – mostly related to his relationship with his wife and lack of offspring with some attention paid, more as a juxtaposition, to his dedication to relieving the suffering of agunot.

Unfortunately, the depiction of the existential anguish of an agunah is pale. At no point is the viewer moved to tears or even deep frustration, as is experienced by anyone in reality trying to help a friend or family member in that position. The portrayal of the Rabbinical Judges’ work in the court is shallow. One does not get a real glimpse of the goings-on behind the scenes, for better or for worse.

On the other hand, the point is made that the women who are refused a get, are indeed pretty helpless. If viewers were to internalize that and then act to protect their acquaintances and loved ones with a preventative solution — signing the prenuptial Agreement for Mutual Respect (Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi which can be found in five languages on the IYIM website https://iyim.org.il/prenup/ ) before the wedding, then the creators’ work will have been proven to have indeed affected Israeli society.

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.
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