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This #NoAgunahDay, let’s #GettProactive

A social media campaign pushes people to recognize personal agency, reject passivity, and shift their mindset on agunot

Agunah Day is commemorated every year on the Fast of Esther, this year falling on March 9th. An agunah is the colloquial term for a Jewish woman held captive in a marriage against her will, unable to be divorced from her husband until he grants her a gett, a Jewish writ of divorce.

Too often, we speak of the plight of the agunah as if it were an inevitable, albeit tragic, fact of life. Like cancer or a natural disaster, we are passive in the face of this devastating misfortune. It could happen to anyone, we say.

MK Aliza Lavie
MK Aliza Lavie

Every year, the special “Misheberach [Prayer] for the Agunah circulates on social media as we plead God to alleviate the agunah’s suffering. Some even cite the fixture of the agunah as a testament to a community’s piety, the noble victim whose “sacrifice is a public, ongoing reaffirmation of the legitimacy and inviolability of the religious laws surrounding marriage and divorce.” A prominent halachist famously remarked that the unsolved agunah problem was his own “personal akedah,” evoking Abraham’s morally conflicted sacrifice of his son. Just yesterday, in a special Knesset meeting, one woman proposed to enshrine the status of agunah as a special legal category as a way for agunot to obtain eligibility for single mother benefits from the state.

Former MK Dov Lipman
Former MK Dov Lipman

As a community, we have settled — uncomfortably — into the reality that the agunah problem is one to be managed, not solved.

By treating it as a divine decree, however — an act of God rather than an aggression of man — we exempt ourselves from liability or claims of negligence. Our personal agency does not even factor into the equation. Such thinking leads to the types of “solutions” mentioned above — ones that express sympathy or even outrage but are always looking back, reactively, to a problem.

Penina Omer of Yad La'Isha and Batya Kahana-Dror of Mavoi Satum
Penina Omer of Yad La’Isha, Batya Kahana-Dror of Mavoi Satum and other activists

This year, Chochmat Nashim, a group of religious women for social justice, would like to rebrand Agunah Day as #NoAgunahDay. We reject the idea of accepting agunot as a fact of life and want to challenge the community to shift into a proactive mindset.

Attorney Nitzan Caspi Shilony from the Center for Women's Justice
Attorney Nitzan Caspi Shilony from the Center for Women’s Justice

We ask: What are you doing to #GettProactive to eliminate the phenomenon of agunot? The campaign aims to challenge each person to recognize their own agency, reject passivity, and articulate proactive steps toward a better reality.

To do this, we ask people to take to social media and propose proactive measures that do not assume agunot is an inevitability. Participants are asked to upload a selfie holding a sign with their positive “gett” message (playing on the name for the Jewish divorce document), followed by the words #GettProactive, #NoAgunahDay2017 and the tag #ChochmatNashim.

Rabbinic pleader Dr. Rachel Levmore, author of the Agreement for Mutual Respect
Rabbinic pleader Dr. Rachel Levmore, author of the Agreement for Mutual Respect

As you can see on our Facebook page, responses have been diverse, sparking such ideas as: “gett” educated, “gett” informed, “gett” empowered, “gett” a prenup, “gett” married with kiddushin al tnai (conditional marriage) and “gett” civil marriage.

This is not a campaign to endorse any particular one solution; in fact, some of the suggestions proposed actually contradict each other. Right now, more important than supporting any one idea is creating a shift in mindset, encouraging creative growth, rather than reactively anticipating or mitigating problems.

Let’s look ahead — it’s where we’re going, after all. This #NoAgunahDay, how will you #GettProactive?

About the Author
Rachel Stomel is a literary translator, graphic designer and slam poet. She is passionate about social justice in the Jewish community, with a special focus on women’s rights and issues of religion and state.
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