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.
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.