Monday, March 13, 2006

International Agunah Day

Today is the 13th of the month of Adar, the Fast of Esther. As I mentioned last year, the Fast of Esther has been designated International Agunah Day by Yad L'Isha. An agunah is a woman who is unable to obtain a get (Jewish divorce). In modern times, such situations are typically the result of a husband's refusal to grant his wife a get, either out of spite or in order to extort money or gain custody of children. Although certain aspects of the halakhot pertaining to marriage and divorce developed in order to protect women, they are set within a patriarchal framework in which the decision to marry or divorce ultimately resides with men. Women who cannot obtain a ghet are left in an untenable situation, unable to remarry lest their children become mamzerim.

Such situations do not arise in the Reform movement, which often relies on civil divorce, or in the Reconstructionist movement, which grants unilateral divorces in cases of recalcitrance. Rachel Adler, a Reform activist and theologian, has advocated replacing the traditional marriage ceremony, kiddushin, with an egalitarian shutafut ("partnership") ceremony, in part to avoid the creation of mamzerim and thus promote harmony with other movements.

Orthodox and Conservative rabbis in the diaspora have devised various methods for preventing women from becoming agunot, including the use of conditional marriage formulas, special clauses within the ketubah (marriage contract), and prenuptial agreements that make civil divorce contingent on the granting of a get. You can read about Conservative approaches to the problem here; the prenuptial agreement sanctioned by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America can be found here. Responsible rabbis do not officiate at weddings unless the agunah issue has been addressed. Those of us who marry in a halakhic context also have a duty to avail ourselves of one of these methods of agunah prevention, even if we expect to be married forever (as most of us do). It is only once these precautions become de rigueur that the problem will have been resolved.

When precautions have not been taken and a woman finds herself unable to obtain a get, rabbinical courts will often attempt to annul the marriage by means of various legal loopholes. Some courts (notably the Conservative and Masorti courts and the Morgenstern/Rackman bet din) grant annulments more readily than others. In Israel, where rabbinical courts are an arm of the state, legal sanctions are often imposed on recalcitrant husbands. However, such sanctions are not always effective, and the courts are not always willing to impose them. Rabbi David Malka, an Israeli rabbinical judge, recently admitted to the Jerusalem Post that he often encourages women to submit to the financial demands of recalcitrant husbands:
"Listen, this is money that she never earned," explained Malka. "Only in theory does it belong to her.

"For instance, according to the law the wife is entitled to half of a man's pension rights even though she never worked a day in her life. I do not think she should remain an aguna because she is stubborn about receiving her half."

The ugliness of such a statement coming from a leader of a community that encourages women to be stay-at-home mothers boggles the mind.

The organization Yad L'Isha (mentioned above) has made important strides toward helping Israeli agunot, including the creation of the institution of to`anot bet din, women who advocate for other women in divorce cases. Although they have no halakhic standing in rabbinical courts because of their gender, the to`anot, who are experts in the laws of marriage and divorce, have managed to work with rabbinical judges to free many potential agunot.

Right now, however, Israeli women are in a precarious situation. Annoyed by the public pressure imposed on them by institutions such as Yad L'Isha, the Israeli Council of Rabbinical Judges has decided to sever all ties with organizations that advocate for agunot. We can only hope that there is enough negative publicity to change their minds.

Please help spread the word about this problem, and take a moment today to recite the prayer for agunot.

You can read more about the connection between agunot and the Fast of Esther here.

(Hat tip to Miriam Shaviv and OOSJ, may his blog rest in peace, for linking to the JPost article.)

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The RCA Beth Din of America, the Modern Orthodox Beth Din is the same way.
They make a women give away most of her
financial rights in order to recieve a get. Since according to the halakhah she is only entitled to the ketuvah.
They openly say that they do not hold from no-fault divorce and will asign blame, most of the time to the woman.
And if a woman wants to settle the financial in civil court they call her a rasha and she is at fault.
Beware!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous
Thank you very much.


Tell every women that you know never never to sign the pre-nuptuals. The Rabbinical Council of America pre-nuptual agreement serves the man. Once in the Beth Din of America, the woman loses everything. Never let the women you know sign the document. Let them speak to a lawyer first.The Rabbis of the Beth Din will openly lie. If I gave details you would take the names off of the blog. But ask around first and never sign the document or have anything to do with them.

elf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
elf said...

Thank you for your comments.

The RCA prenup is a civil contract and is meant to be enforceable in civil court, so the woman is not totally dependent on the favor of the bet din (rabbinical court). The doucument does, however, allow the couple to decide to leave matters in the hands of religious courts. This option should never be chosen.

The role of the civil court is to force the man to pay a certain sum of money until a get is issued. There are a few problems with this from the standpoint of both halakha and civil law, but it is better than nothing. Issuance of the get itself is necessarily left in the hands of the bet din for reasons of church/state separation, and if the bet din does not uphold the woman's cause, it can certainly cause problems. However, this is true whether or not the RCA prenup is signed. There is no advantage to avoiding the prenup.

As far as I can tell, best solution to the aguna problem is T'naim B'kiddushin, which retroactively nullify the marriage if the husband refuses to grant a get. Unfortunately, this method is out of favor.

Does anyone know of any better approaches?

elf's DH said...

elf wrote:

The doucument does, however, allow the couple to decide to leave matters in the hands of religious courts. This option should never be chosen.

Just one more comment: The clause that puts all matters of divorce into a bet din is indeed optional. But, if you read the RCA material, they seem to be pushing it an attempt to socially engineer Jewish divorce out of civil courts. I'm not sure how much longer it will remain optional.

There are a few problems with this from the standpoint of both halakha and civil law

It's phrased in the positive. During the time the couple is married under Jewish law, the husband is obligated to support the wife with a certain amount of money. From a civil law perspective, it has never been tested in court.

No matter what, in any dispute involving a get, a bet din will have to get involved. The civil courts can't enforce religious obligations.

The 2003 (current) version of the RCA prenup is here.

In the original version, the actual sum (part VII) was a blank space that had to be filled in. Now, it's a fixed sum. Either way can cause practical or halachic problems in the future, when the husband's assets might be different from what they are at the time teh marriage was transacted.

fleurdelis28 said...

In the original version, the actual sum (part VII) was a blank space that had to be filled in. Now, it's a fixed sum. Either way can cause practical or halachic problems in the future, when the husband's assets might be different from what they are at the time teh marriage was transacted.

On the practical end, couldn't it just be phrased as a percentage of the husband's income or assets?

elf said...

On the practical end, couldn't it just be phrased as a percentage of the husband's income or assets?

That would make more sense, wouldn't it?

elf's DH said...

I don't know enough halachic contract law to know whether that would be considered indeterminate. Then again, might one be able to make the same argument about the adjustment for inflation?

If it were, it would make a halachic business partnership agreement quite a bit more complicated.

Yes, it does make a lot more sense than what they've got in there now.

taylweaver said...

FYI: I heard about the Agunah day through the shul where I daven (KOE). Before ma'ariv on Monday night, they had a ta'anit dibur to raise awareness. Unfortunately, I missed the entire thing (I barely made it for megillah reading, let alone before ma'ariv), but I thought it was an interesting concept.

elf said...

Interesting. At my college we tried having a moment of silence in honor of agunot before ma'ariv. I guess that's like ka ta'anit dibur, but maybe shorter.

Anonymous said...

Men can be agunos as well. My friend is trying for over a year to get divorced. His wife refuses to take a get. Her sister's husband is head of the bais din in baltimore and he has allowed her to ignore rulings of other batei din, and used his power to prevent her from being censured by the baltimore bais din.

elf said...

In theory, the situation for men is less problematic, since a man can get a heter me'ah rabbanim to allow him to remarry. In practice, however, it's easy to see how the same sorts of political issues and power plays that victimize women can victimize men as well.

hanly said...

Blu Ray Converter

Convert Blu Ray Mac
Convert Blu Ray to AVI
Convert Blu Ray to DivX
Convert Blu Ray to MKV
Convert Blu Ray to MOV
Convert Blu Ray to MP4
Convert Blu Ray to MPEG
Convert Blu Ray to MPEG2
Convert Blu Ray to MPEG4
Convert Blu Ray to VOB
Convert Blu Ray to WMV
Convert Blu Ray to Xvid
Convert Blu Ray to HD
Convert Blu Ray to HD WMV
Convert Blu Ray to iPod
Convert Blu Ray to PS3
Convert Blu Ray to PSP
Convert Blu Ray to Xbox360

bluwing said...

Blu-ray Ripper for mac is the most powerful Mac Blu-ray Ripper which is the best assistant for mac users to rip/copy/backup BD/DVD to portable devices like iPad, iPhone, iPod, Galaxy Tab, HTC Evo 4G, Nokia N8, Nokia E7, Droid X, Samsung Galaxy S, PS3, WD TV…for playback.

With Blu-ray Ripper for Mac, you are able to rip Blu-ray files to almost all the mainstream video formats, including MKV, MOV, H.264, TS, MP4, M4V, VOB, MPEG, and more other file types at will according to your different end uses. Besides the outstanding conversion function, this Mac Blu-ray Ripper also allows users to perfect video effects by using the rich edit funcitons. That means with this Blu-ray Ripper for mac, you can not only rip Blu-ray for Mac with super fast speed and high quality, but can also edit video effects by trimming, cropping, adjusting, adding a watermark, merge multiple files and so on. Being interested in this functional tool? Have a free trial right now! You can also get Blu-ray Ripper for windows here.