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Seeking Justice For Agunot
As agunah summit nears, a call to resolve crisis of chained women.
Special To The Jewish Week
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Earlier this year, Israeli headlines featured R. Cohen, an Orthodox mother of two who had been separated from her husband Shai for 12 years. Shai chose to spend the last six in jail rather than give his wife a get (writ of Jewish divorce) but now wanted his own freedom. He was taken to a religious court to give the get. During a break in proceedings, unshackled, he escaped by jumping through a second-story men’s room window. Roadblocks and helicopter searches yielded nothing. R. Cohen screamed. She had been so close… 

The following day, Sarah, a divorce lawyer for agunot (women waiting for a get), went to the same court with Yael, an agunah of 16 years. Because of the fiasco a day earlier, the judges allowed Yael “a bit of a victory,” Sarah told me. They remanded her husband to jail.

During the past 50 years, there has been much agunah activism around the world: aid organizations, scholarly books, films, prayers, conferences, ostracizing husbands, female advocates in the religious courts, International Agunah Day and more. Prenuptial agreements (to facilitate the giving of a get in event of divorce) are now widely promoted. Civil courts adjudicate cases of iggun (the unresolved situation of an agunah) as matters of civil rights. The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) successfully organizes mass rallies against husbands who refuse their wives a get. The very word ORA is enough to scare off some recalcitrant husbands from further mischief

Yet after 50 years, where are we really? We still have agunot in our midst, including newly minted ones. Fear of becoming an agunah has caused countless women to stay in bad marriages or negotiate away financial support and personal property in civil divorce proceedings. And where are we really if we’ve been conditioned to think that incarcerating a husband after 16 years of recalcitrance constitutes “a bit of a victory?”

Prenuptial agreements remain voluntary, and most Orthodox marriages are not covered by get-related pre- or post-nuptial agreements. ORA resolved 200 agunah cases in the past decade, yet 70 new ones are on its docket while it turns away others. And civil courts should not be the venue for solving halachic problems.

Most distressing of all, because the focus is on future prevention and individual case aid, current agunot see the community as running right past them with barely a sideward glance. Cases languish in inhospitable, slow-moving courts; lives are stalled; the frustration, rage and depression of an agunah are endless. Some are suicidal.

Why does iggun exist? Because the principle of a husband’s “absolute right” to control the end of marriage has accompanied Jewish divorce down through the ages. The Mishnah [Yevamot 14:1] states: “A woman is divorced irrespective of her will but a man divorces solely at will.” This rabbinic principle was derived from Deuteronomy 24:1 — “If a man takes a wife who becomes displeasing to him… he writes her a writ of divorce, places it in her hand and sends her away.”

As Jewish divorce law developed over centuries, it confirmed a man’s “absolute right.” Thus, it became a systemic problem, inherent in the law. Some argue the law is not the problem; the recalcitrant husband is. But we must acknowledge the truth: the principle of a man’s absolute right in divorce, open to abuse and lacking systemic remedy, is absolutely wrong.

Yet, that is not the whole story of Jewish divorce. The writ of divorce, an official document, protected a woman against the humiliation of an irrevocable verbal divorce. It insured that she not be kicked out the door like chattel but accorded some dignity at this painful transition. Thus, the get became both her protection and exposure. Throughout history, the rabbis added numerous ameliorations for wives, including the ketubah (wedding contract) that guaranteed her financial security; rights to initiate divorce; and a community’s coercion of her husband to release her. Recognizing there were extreme situations where obtaining a get was not possible, the rabbis created two systemic solutions that suspended a husband’s absolute right and transferred power to themselves to end the marriage.

One solution was hafka’at kiddushin, rabbinic annulment of the marriage when it failed to meet rabbinic expectations and legal norms. The other was kiddushei ta’ut, mistaken marriage: a ceremony enacted with misleading or missing information is considered as if it never took effect. What constitutes “misleading or missing” information ran the gamut, from a groom’s failure to disclose his impotence or criminal record, to umdenah, in which the rabbis assess what would have been in a woman’s mind 25 years earlier under the chupah. For example, had she known of his potential cruelty in abandoning her 25 years later without a get, she would not have married.

And yet, with all of the safeguards, with two systemic solutions in place, the principle of absolute right continued to play a major role in the unfolding of divorce law. Occasionally, the lenient tradition prevailed as in the Geonic period when annulment was used more liberally. But more often, the strict position of unwavering absolute right outweighed other considerations and leniencies, making wives vulnerable to iggun.

And that is where we are unto this very day. Halachic leadership continues to valorize the principle of absolute right in a variety of ways. More halachic literature today is devoted to defending a husband’s free will than to analyzing systemic solutions that curb it. Establishment rabbinic courts apply kiddushei ta’ut precedents very narrowly, counting a husband’s late-disclosed homosexuality but not his pedophilia, his insanity but not his domestic violence.

In the 1990s, Rabbi Emanuel Rackman created the Bet Din for Agunot to free agunot through kiddushei ta’ut where there was no hope of a get. Instead of appreciating the heavy halachic lifting he was doing for them, his Modern Orthodox colleagues publicly discredited his bet din.

In 2006, a major international rabbinic conference was convened in Jerusalem to consider systemic solutions for ending iggun. Yet, the conference was cancelled at zero hour under haredi, or fervently Orthodox, pressure.

More telling has been the recent rabbinic response to the work of British legal scholar Bernard Jackson and his Manchester Aguna Research Unit. Jackson and colleagues examined the work of rabbinic luminaries through the ages. They showed that systemic solutions were grounded in halacha, used in the past and could be invoked now. In 2010, Jackson presented his findings to New York rabbis and rabbinic judges. There was little enthusiasm.

So iggun remains an undeniable injustice. That it has been honed through millennia of Jewish life should not be taken to mean it is a sanctified tradition; it means that the injustice will accompany us into the future until we resolve it.

Do we have a choice? Do we say that a husband’s absolute right, though it inflicts injustice on some, is God’s law and we must do all we can to help but must remain faithful to the law; or can we say that we are called upon to do God’s work of justice and compassion, eliminating iggun now and for all time?

That is the tension in the agunah community today. The few who hold the interpretive keys to divorce law, highly respected rabbinic judges, feel genuine anguish at the suffering of innocent women but claim they can do nothing to amend or reinterpret the law. In a sincere desire to alleviate the plight of agunot without touching Jewish law, they lead the community along paths of public shaming and monetary threats — but not a systemic solution to acute agunah cases.

Yet they know that halachic mechanisms for repair have long existed. They know there is more to eternal law than its immutability. When problems or hardship existed, rabbis of every generation refined Jewish law — through selective interpretation, through fiat (takkanot), loopholes and legal fictions when other avenues were closed. That was the genius of the rabbis who enabled Torah law to adapt to the human condition yet also to increase justice as the Jewish people walked through history.

It is obvious that it will take a much stronger force to enable contemporary halachists to look at the matter in a new way. That force must be the Jewish community. Just as a covenant exists between God and the Jewish people, so a covenant exists between the Jewish people and their spiritual leaders. Explicit principles in the tradition affirm this partnership. The entire structure of halachic interpretation and of responsa literature holds the promise of incorporating communal need. In our generation, if a community sees injustice and does not act, it becomes a bystander. An international agunah meeting, the Tikvah-JOFA Agunah Summit (organized by JOFA and NYU’s Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization), is being convened next week at NYU Law School for leadership and community to examine systemic halachic solutions together, with total transparency, to confirm their legitimacy and broader use but also to affirm that “our hands are tied” is no longer an answer. If not these systemic solutions, then others must be raised up, solutions that are immediate and comprehensive, until promises of airtight prevention are fulfilled. This is not about convenience, but about justice and the “honor of the Torah.”

At the summit table will be the entire community mix, including scholars of tradition and change, scholars of law and culture, synagogue-state experts, human rights activists, religious feminists, lay leaders and philanthropists; political strategists and the press, and the two core groups — dedicated agunah activists along with rabbis and dayanim [religious judges].  

The summit must be the beginning of a sustained campaign, not a one-time rally or conference. In addition to halachic review of the sources, one would hope for a broad mandate to emerge from the summit’s collective of religious and lay leaders. These should include the commitment to concluding all unresolved long-term cases of iggun swiftly and for the courts to declare that every case of iggun is a matter of injustice.

Some will interpret these words as an irreverent screed, but that is a deep misreading. All of these words represent those who continue to believe in the chain of tradition, in halachic authority vested in the rabbis and in a tradition of just laws. We affirm the value and importance of a get; we promote prenuptial agreements and support agunah rallies. We speak of applying systemic solutions only where necessary in extreme cases of recalcitrance. We do not advocate civil marriage or non-traditional ceremonies or the use of invalid witnesses at a wedding who, worst-case scenario, can be later drafted to nullify the marriage ceremony. 

What we suggest here is that the community empower the rabbis to do right by women faithful to the tradition, restore fairness to Jewish divorce law, eliminate injustice once and for all, and make themselves worthy of the esteemed title they carry and honored positions they hold. Nothing more. 

This essay is excerpted from a longer version that can be found at

For more information about the Agunah Summit on June 24, please contact

Last Update:

05/26/2015 - 09:30
Agunah, Divorces, Gets, Jewish Divorces
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Most women do not become Agunot for nothing. There really is no reason for a man not to give his wife a Get, unless she is extorting him, and indeed most of the Agunot, if not all are cry-babies, extortionist ladies under the protection of the feminazi movement. Some of them extort houses. Some of the Agunot extort child support in astronomic figures. All of them deny the fathers visitations with the children. Most if not all fake violence and make false police reports about violence, that never happened. Many Agunot are child abductors. They kidnap children from the USA to Israel, and when they do not want to return to the USA, they start crying that they are Agunot.

ORA and its ilk must convince the public why is the man not willing to move on? Why is he "chaining" the woman? Usually the response is that he is upset that she left him, and that he wants "revenge", or is "jealous".

In almost all circumstances, it is the other way around. These are women brainwashed by the feminist clinics, that they are entitled to demand whatever they want, and if the man does not surrender, he will be put to jail in Israel. What happens when the man is in the USA, either because he escaped a life of misery in Israel (police, feminist judges, hotzaa lapopolal, child alienation), or because he is American to begin with? This is where ORA steps in, with their stupid propaganda that men are revengeful or jealous. Ultimately it is all about money and children.

If all these feminize-feminists and Orthodox feminists and femidox clinics would just give up their own salaries and pay it to the false agunut, they will be quite happy to move on with their lives without the Get. They can get a Civil divorce and remarry. (In Israel they can simply start a common-law-wife relationship, just like all others, 300,000 Psulei Hatuna, who cannot marry in a religious ceremony).

The myth is that they want to remarry and cannot. The truth is that most of these agunot care less about remarriage. All they want is money and revenge. They either have nobody willing to marry them, because they are obsessed with jailing their ex husbands, or they simply have fun with anybody willing to get serviced by an Aguna desperate for sex.


Mishpat Tzedek is a committee of rabbis devoted to the closure of ORA. Here's what Rabbi Dovid Eidensohn said: "We believe that the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), a Yeshiva University based organization claiming to be assisting agunot, is in fact promoting some of the worst possible violations of halacha (Jewish religious law). We also believe that the ORA organization and its directors such as Rabbi Jeremy Stern have inflicted vicious and unjustified harassment against many decent Jewish men who were in fact attempting to resolve their marriage or divorce issues in compliance with HALACHA.

Several years ago, a protest against a Brooklyn rabbi who is a respected TALMID CHACHAM was called by Rabbi Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University and the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA). An outrage occurred during this protest when the respected TALMID CHACHAM targeted in the protest was viciously and publicly insulted and defamed. We consider it outrageous that Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a person considered a Torah scholar in the “Modern Orthodox” world, would be involved in a protest disgracing and defaming a respected CHAREIDI TALMID CHACHAM.

On a number of occasions various activists have apparently informed Rabbi Schachter that the ORA organization was involved in activities SH’LO K’HALACHA and SH’LO K’YASHRUSH. No apparent action has been taken to correct ORA violations of halacha.

Fraudulent Seruvim Against Decent Men: A valid SERUV (rabbinic contempt degree) may be issued by a reputable and KOSHER rabbinic court only under certain specific circumstances. PASUL SERUVIM are being issued and exploited on a more frequent basis to justify the vicious harassment and abuse of various decent Jewish men. An unsuspecting Jewish public is not aware of the extent of the PASUL SERUV abuses. The Jewish Press and the ORA organization have publicized a number of PASUL SERUVIM in an attempt to grant legitimacy to public campaigns against against certain Jewish husbands who are allegedly in violation of Jewish law.

In the Justice Denied section of this site, a number of these PASUL SERUVIM have been exposed. PASUL SERUVIM may be invalid for a number of reasons. For example, a PASUL SERUV may lack the name, address, and phone number of a real Bais Din, or else a SERUV may be PASUL because the defendant was willing to appear before another Bais Din (not the one he was summoned to), or else a SERUV may be PASUL because the plaintiff in Bais Din was litigating in a non-Jewish court while attempting to use a Bais Din only to obtain a GET.

Numerous Jewish women have had valid and KOSHER SERUVIM issued against them after they had utilized non-Jewish courts against their husbands in violation of HALACHA. Yet it seems that very rarely has the Jewish Press, or the ORA organization, or any of the “Modern Orthodox” pro-feminist organizations EVER published the names of any of the numerous women who have had valid SERUVIM issued against them!!!

Using these kinds of “tactics” of publishing bogus SERUVIM (against men only) is another example of unscrupulousness that makes people question the authenticity of various “players” in the BAIS DIN system today. In fact according to HALACHA the persons responsible for these tactics deserve CHEREM, not their victims.

“For 24 actions we ostracize a person … (1) One who disgraces a Talmid Chacham … (24) Those who ostracize one who has not incurred ostracizing …” (Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), Yoreh Deah 334:43).

OZER L’MOSRIM: We believe that in many cases women being assisted by ORA and the Jewish Press are utilizing non-Jewish courts in violation of HALACHA. Many of these women are or have engaged in vicious MESIRAH against their husbands, one of the most serious AVEIROS in HALACHA, for which a Jew loses their OLAM HABAAH. These women and their supporters seem to figure – Why bother to appear before a BAIS DIN if we can obtain a bogus SEIRUV and scream AGUNAH?

There is certainly an increasing number of Jewish women attempting to dance at two CHASUNAS at the same time – by litigating in secular courts to get a better deal (K’NEGED HALACHA) and then attempting to utilize BAIS DIN only to obtain their GET afterwards. This unfortunately has been allowed in too many cases by spineless BATEI DIN who either due to profit motives or feminist influences take a very benign docile attitude in insisting that these women immediately withdraw from secular courts, stop the terrible transgression of MESIRAH, and cease throwing their husbands in jail with phony orders of protection.

Coerced and PASUL GITTIN: No Jewish man is required to give his wife a GET just because “Modern Orthodox” feminists “paskened” that he is required to do so! The fact of the matter is that one does not have to be a significant Torah scholar, (perhaps now with the feminist influences one does have to be a significant scholar) to know that just because a woman demands a GET, she is NOT entitled to break up her family and obtain a GET. This can only be decided in an authentic BAIS DIN setting that adjudicates the entire issue and rules that the husband is CHAYAV L’GARESHA (that the husband is required to divorce her). Anything less that such a ruling does not obligate a man to give a GET. EHRLICHE RABBANIM will say that its extremely important, lacking that PSAK, not to coerce the husband financially or socially, or to coerce him to give a GET as this will call into question the entire validity of the GET.

All disputes between a husband and wife must be resolved according to HALACHA before a GET procedure is performed. Both husband and wife are prohibited from making any new claims against each other after a GET is provided in a Bais Din, and all the more so in civil courts. The Ramo in Evan HaEzer, Seder HaGet, paragraph 81, clearly proscribes this, and Rav Moshe Feinstein Z”TL says that for many centuries no GET is given until all fiscal and other matters are settled. A woman who litigates in civil court after she receives her GET may very well invalidate the GET.

We believe that the activities of the ORA organization, and certain other “AGUNAH” organizations are resulting in GET MEOSO, PASUL GITTIN, and MAMZERIM. Most of these cases involve decent men who are NOT obligated under HALACHA to give their wives a GET. We also believe that the infirm and/or elderly relatives of certain Jewish men have been subjected to abusive protests by ORA. We have also received reports that ORA has allegedly contacted the employers of some Jewish men in order to pressure the men into giving GITTIN to their wives. For quite some time, on the home page of ORA’s web site, it stated that “An agunah is a woman whose husband refuses to grant her a Jewish divorce upon request.” We believe this statement exposes the anti-Torah approach of ORA and its rabbis, even if the statement has since been removed from the ORA website. There appears to be no halachic source which can validate this fantastic claim. We consulted with a number of highly learned, senior rabbis, who specialize in Jewish divorce law. None of the rabbis we consulted were able to cite any source for ORA’s definition of an “agunah” in any Jewish law texts. At least one learned rabbi this writer spoke with characterized ORA’s definition of an “agunah” as being apikorsos.

The “Reformadox” Movements: ORA and other “agunah” organizations attempt to portray themselves as operating within the parameters of HALACHA, but they are clearly operating outside of normative HALACHA. We believe ORA could be characterized as a “Reformadox” movement – a movement which claims to be adhering to Orthodox Torah law by publicly practicing Jewish rituals like Shabbos and Kashrus, but is in fact promoting a Reform, anti-Torah, feminist ideology.

As stated in the “Bitul Seruv” letter from the Bais Din of Shar Mishpat: “… the “ORA” group – shamefully known for their disgraceful actions against the Torah – under the auspices of Josh Ross ( Yehoshua Ross AKA Yehoshua Zev), to whom many False and invalid GITTIN could be credited – which is causing the sin of ESHET ISH and ARAYOS to be allowed, as well as MAMZERIM B’MACHANEINU, [a Get obtained through such practices should be deemed highly questionable and most likely invalid PASUL, it makes one wonder why she would want a GET at all as required by the Torah, since they are violating many other severe laws of the Torah anyway!]

They (ORA) are following the crooked way of the Reform movement, as if in every conflict between husband and wife – the wife has to have the upper hand – to be able to force him to give a GET while depriving him of his rights, as well as in every detail of the conflict she has to have it all according to her wishes. And a husband who is willing to give his wife a GET, but insists on his basic human and halachic rights, is immediately being overwhelmed and publicized falsely as a (disobedient person) and is being shamed, humiliated and embarrassed as though he is a SARBAN (chaining) his wife, while quite the contrary, whereby the wife would only want a GET in a way that deprives her husband of his rights, it is only the wife that is chaining herself rather than the husband chaining her.”

Several questions beg themselves: Why has Rabbi Schachter not spoken out about the numerous women using non-Jewish courts and committing MESIRAH, while being assisted by ORA? Is Rabbi Schachter in favor of forcing husbands to give GITTIN while their wives are in court and jailing their husbands? Are the “Modern Orthodox” feminists practicing authentic Torah Judaism or in reality are they practicing a type of Reform in disguise?

The other side of ORA (Organization for the Resolution of Agunot):

Anyone who thinks JOFA is anti-halakha is wrong, and they are plain, stam, lying in order to make their own power supreme. Every rav who spoke at the summit at NYU yesterday proved over and over and over again that the agunah/mesuravot issue goes beyond recalcitrant husbands, who really do NOT have the right to be bullies and ignore the rabbis who have granted gets. And while they might not agree on implementation they showed that there are 5, count 'em 5 halakhic ways to release these women. But since everyone is afraid of their own shadow, God-forbid women should have the basic human right, the basic human right, the basic human right (I said it three time for a chazaka) to marry and divorce. The chillul Hashem that has resulted from the greed of corrupt batei din and extortion-practicing husbands who are therefore empowered to ignore legitimate batei din is, as everyone said at the JOFA summit, a horrible stain on the Jewish people, especially in cases involving domestic violence and sexual abuse of one's own children by a spouse, which the rabbis in Israel think is perfectly fine. We know that since they do nothing about it and hand custody of the victims to the abusers. Just like there is ZERO halakha that prohibits women from wearing talitot and tefillin, and women are tortured by men who hate the idea that women are their equals, they also don't want you to know there is indeed halakha that can release women. However, except for a few hundred Modern Orthodox rabbis, there is no rabbinic will because ethics and morality do not count in the psaks they make and in many of the "little batei din" money in their pockets means more than the suffering of a woman.So things will not change until there is push back from the women and the Modern Orthodox rabbis who support them on the basis of morality, ethics and halakha. And there was plenty of halakha quoted yesterday to make the point. So now there will be some push back, whether the amhaartzim, those men and rabbis who deny halakha for their own selfish needs and corrupt practice, like it or not. The rabbis told us at the summit to be patient. I am the basis of the Silver Get Law, and I can tell you forty years is a long time to wait before the Jewish community goes after wife batterers and extortionists, and the system doesn't bother to this day. I guess women will have to die of their beatings and children will suffer their sexual abuse silently until the eruv rav, the community wakes up and does the right thing because it is the right thing to do, just as the Talmud instructs them to do it. I am personally sick of the cold-hearted and viciously anti-female Litvish and other ultra-Orthodox demoninations who endorse the subjugation and denial of basic human rights to women and their need to consolidate power over every aspect of their followers lives. These people ignore the Talmud's advice to rely on the community to set its own standards. After yesterday's conference, they may be a glimmer of hope that after decades of women fighting to be free from men who would kill them and extort everything and anything from them and their families, that I will live long enough to this shanda, charpa and busha of the Jewish people finally be over, so that my daughters, granddaughters and their granddaughters never have to go through the beatings, verbal abuse and scandals I had to go through in order to get on with my life. Unfortunately, Today Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztl is considered by many of the current generation of poskim on agunah to be a nobody and a nothing. That should tell you about the kind of horrible people we are up against.

While it is certainly possible that this woman's heart is in the right place, her mindset is not Orthodox. She seems to straddle the line between Conservative (let's rely on convenient minority legal opinions even when the accepted majority of legal scholars disagrees) and Reform (Judaism wants us to promote justice but we define what that means, not God and His law). As a result, her proposed framework for solutions will, unfortunately, hardly benefit a halachic (I.e. law abiding) community.

Why all the hand-wringing? The Ramban provided the obvious solution for mesuravot get: beat the s--t out of the recalcitrant husband until he *wants* to give the get. Problem solved.

BTW, you do yourself a disservice when you fail to distinguish between an aguna - a woman who remains "chained" to her husband because, for example, he has gone on a voyage and not returned - and a mesurevet get, a woman whose husband refuses to give her a get. Historically, the former is a well-known situation, and Haza"l and later authorities introduced all sorts of leniencies with respect to agunot (e.g. allowing the woman to remarry based on the testimony of a single eyewitness, or accepting various statements of the husband as constituting instructions to issue a get to his wife). It's the many cases of mesuravot get that are problematic.

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