Woman in chains: Will anything change for Agunot
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“Jewish Law expects the man to give and the woman to receive the get,” explained Rabbi Michael Broyde, a professor of law at Emory University and author of “Marriage, Divorce and the Abandoned Wife in Jewish Law.” “And there’s no way to readily get around that.”
Publicly shaming an individual to force him to give a get is an old tactic. Typically, when a man refuses to give a get, ORA will seek a hazmana, a summons, for him to come to beis din. If he still persists in refusing to give a get, the beis din can issue a seruv, essentially excommunicating him, though the strength of an ex-communication has waned.
“In Europe the community had some type of autonomy and then a cherem meant complete financial and communal ostracizing,” explained Stern. “There’s no way for a beis din to enforce its ruling aside from an organization like ORA.”
The problem of agunot is not a new one. The Talmud first discusses the case of the Agunah when a husband goes out to war or is lost at sea.
“The term meant something different centuries ago,” Rabbi Broyde explained. “500 years ago the case was a husband who disappeared, who might be dead or kidnapped, but we weren’t sure. 500 years ago, a husband turns to his wife and says ‘I’m going to Italy,’ and he steps on a boat and we never hear from him again. Every case was examined if the husband was alive or deceased. If he was deceased she could remarry again.”
Tami Arad, the wife of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad, is currently the most famous such Agunah.
“The Forward [newspaper] about a 100 years ago used to print pictures of husbands who fled to the U.S.,” Rabbi Stern said. “These women were classical Agunot. Tragically there are Agunot from the Holocaust and from M.I.A’s in Israel. Most recently Ehud Goldwasser’s wife was an agunah until they ascertained his death. [There are cases from] 9/11, men who literally disappeared.”
Within the last hundred years, the term has usually come to refer to cases in which a husband simply refuses to give a get. Rabbi Stern pinpoints several reasons for men withholding a get: monetary settlement, a better custody deal for children, for spite, or for love. The last, Rabbi Stern says, is the most difficult to deal with.