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Preventing ‘Wartime Agunot’ in the Knesset

The October 7th sudden and horrific attack on Israel together with the ensuing war has created many tragedies. Too many. There is one tragedy in this war with which we have not yet been confronted, thank G-d, but we must do our utmost to ensure that it does not develop. This is a tragedy unique to the Jewish people – the wartime agunah.

As we are aware, an agunah is a married woman who cannot receive a get from her husband —either by his refusal to grant it (the most common case of agunot), due to mental incompetence, his disappearance, or his lying in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for years on end. Unfortunately, the latter two situations became distinct possibilities as our precious and courageous soldiers went to battle. This awakened the need to give married soldiers a chance to protect their wives, if G-d forbid something should happen to them. This protection, a kind of insurance policy hopefully never meant to be implemented, is arranged through the signing of a harsha’ah l’get – an authorization to arrange a divorce on behalf of the husband.

Since an official harsha’ah l’get exists in the IDF documents since the first IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren instituted it for the case of disappearance of the soldier, this should not be a difficult mission to accomplish. On Tuesday, March 19, 2024, the Knesset’s Committee for the Advancement of Women held a special session marking International Agunah Day. Initiated by the ICAR Coalition, it was attended by MKs; the Directorate of the Israeli Rabbinical Court’s Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan and it’s legal advisors; representatives of the Beit Hillel rabbinic organization; and representatives of the organizations comprising the ICAR Coalition (including the author of this article). Speakers of the latter group presented the challenge at hand in a knowledgeable, sensitive manner. Of special mention were the two agunot who spoke of their life’s experiences, spurring on all those present to cooperate in achieving the goal of preventing wartime agunot.

To my mind, the pervasive good-will brought about three agreed-upon positive steps to be taken: Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan will meet with the Chief Rabbis of Israel to discuss the drawing up of an agreed-upon text for a wartime harsha’ah l’get; Chair of the Committee for the Advancement of Women, MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, will coordinate with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Committee, for the purpose of setting up a mechanism within the IDF for distribution of the document; and the representative of the IDF Rabbinate weighed positively the addition to the IDF harsha’ah l’get of a clause detailing the possibility of an injury leading to a PVS which would trigger the implementation of the document.

The cooperation between the Knesset, the IDF, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the agunah organizations can bring about a blessed halakhic development of prevention of the tragic, untenable situation of the agunah arising during our trying times.

International Agunah Day falls yearly on Ta’anit Esther, this year on March 21, 2024.

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 Young Israel - Israel Region 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.