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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?