Keshet Starr

We ALL Have a Role to Play in Ending Get Refusal

Written by Keshet Starr & Emily Zimmer

There’s no question about it: It’s not an easy time to be a Jew. Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the tragedy in Meron, and tensions in the Middle East, our community has been struggling. At the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), we’ve spent the past year addressing the rise in domestic abuse cases due to Covid-19 isolation, as well as the growing awareness about the agunah issue on social media. We want to recognize the hardship of this past year and this current moment–but we also want to shed some light on how we can begin to move forward.  

While the agunah issue has plagued our community for centuries, the recent attention to the issue has led to passionate conversations, ideological debates, and a deep desire among many to address this difficult issue. But the real question is, how? How can an individual contribute to resolving a problem so vast and thorny it’s difficult to untangle? How can the energy of the moment be harnessed into lasting change? And in the context of everything we’ve been through as a community, how can we rebuild after so much has changed?

The answer lies at the intersection of advocacy and education. While we can never lose sight of how far we still have to go, we can and should note the strides we’ve made as a community. Signing a Halachic Prenup has become standard practice in segments of the Orthodox world, and we are seeing a subsequent decline in agunah cases in those areas. The concept of get refusal as a form of domestic abuse is no longer radical, but increasingly ingrained in our culture. More and more synagogues, schools, and Jewish institutions are hosting educational programs about agunot and saying, out loud, that abuse is not tolerated in Torah communities. The world is heading towards change, and you can help. 

We want the Jewish community to know that everyone has a role to play in ending get refusal, no matter what your day job is. Because the fact is, there are real and tangible steps each and every one of us can take to help end the agunah problem in our lifetime.

How? The options are as varied as our community members themselves. You can become a notary to help couples sign Halachic Prenups, run an educational program about the agunah issue, speak up on your social media platforms, study relevant halachic sources, volunteer, and debunk common myths pertaining to the Jewish divorce process. But that’s not all.

More than anything, you can speak up. With every Shabbos table conversation, shul drasha, phone call and “We signed our Prenup!” Facebook post, we get one step closer to a world where Jewish women do not live in fear. 

We don’t have to be community leaders to be empowered and to make a difference. We should be able to understand how the Jewish divorce process works even though we pray to never go through it ourselves. We need to become educated allies to those who are suffering.  We need to stand in solidarity with every agunah and communicate the message that a get is not a bargaining chip. 

At ORA, we also play varying roles in solving the agunah crisis. Some of our staff devote themselves to active agunah cases, chasing down leads and exploring opportunities for resolution while encouraging and supporting agunot. Others run our helpline, responding to hundreds of calls for assistance in the divorce process. Still more focus on education and awareness. But whether it’s speaking to a group of high school seniors or sitting in the basement of a shtiebel leading a meeting of rabbonim, family members and lay leaders, everyone at ORA has a role to play in ending the agunah crisis. And we need your help. 

On May 23rd and May 24th, we will be hosting a crowdfund campaign to make sure we not only solve agunah cases but prevent them from occurring in the first place through education, awareness and conversation.  With your help, we can make sure that our work continues and expands at this critical juncture.

Join with us HERE, and let’s all play a role in ending the agunah crisis, once and for all–because it’s time.

About the Author
Keshet Starr is the Executive Director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), the only nonprofit organization addressing the agunah (Jewish divorce refusal) crisis on a case-by-case basis worldwide. At ORA, Keshet oversees advocacy, early intervention, and educational initiatives designed to assist individuals seeking a Jewish divorce, and advocates for the elimination of abuse in the Jewish divorce process. Keshet has written for outlets such as the Times of Israel, The Forward, Haaretz, and academic publications, and frequently presents on issues related to Jewish divorce, domestic abuse, and the intersection between civil and religious divorce processes. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Keshet lives in central New Jersey with her husband and three young children.
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