In October 1979, Honey Rackman was asked to help a friend whose daughter was being denied a "get," or Jewish divorce. A group of Modern Orthodox women held a meeting in their Flatbush, Brooklyn, neighborhood to discuss how to help.
Since then she became a tireless advocate for "agunot," or "chained women," whose husbands refuse to grant their wives a religious divorce, leaving them in a kind of purgatory.
Two years ago, Brooklyn State Supreme Court Justice Gerald Garson was hailed by several Jewish women's groups for forcing an obstinate Orthodox husband to give a get, or religious divorce, to his young Sephardic wife.
In a landmark decision, Garson invoked the 1983 New York State Get Law and ordered the husband to pay his 22-year-old wife of four months the sum of $500 a week in permanent maintenance because he refused to "remove a barrier to her remarriage" by denying her the get.
On a cloudy Wednesday afternoon, the sidewalks of lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan are bustling with last-minute holiday shoppers. But two flights up, in a nondescript building near the Banana Republic, a half-dozen rabbis and laypeople are concerned only with the liberation of Jewish women.
They comprise a controversial new rabbinical court, or bet din, which is granting speedy, affordable divorces to agunot — known as “woman in chains” — whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce, or get.
Advocates of a creative method to dissolve religious marriages on behalf of Orthodox Jewish women have for the first time publicly issued a detailed explanation of their process. In a two-page advertisement on pages 26 and 27 in this week’s Jewish Week, the group, Agunah Inc., in cooperation with Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, one of Modern Orthodoxy’s leading figures, published the “Halachic Principles and Procedures For Freeing Agunot.” Agunot, Hebrew for chained wives, refers to Jewish women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce, or get.
Several major national Orthodox rabbinical groups this week repudiated the work of a New York City rabbinical court that has gained popularity with women by “freeing” chained wives, or agunot, stuck in bad marriages.
Strongly worded statements were issued separately on Tuesday by both the rigidly Orthodox Agudath Israel of America and the increasingly right-wing National Council of Young Israel, asserting that the rabbinical court was operating outside the bounds of halacha, or Jewish law.