Clas­sic ‘aguna’

How to ap­proach the se­vere prob­lem with eyes wide open

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By RACHEL LEVMORE

These days when we meet an “aguna,” or ex­press con­cern over our daugh­ters’ fu­tures, the gen­eral intent is ac­tu­ally focused on a vic­tim of get-re­fusal. In­deed, the prob­lem of a spouse, whether the hus­band or the wife, re­fus­ing to sever the bonds of mar­riage in ac­cor­dance with Jewish law even at the mar­riage’s end, is un­for­tu­nately all too com­mon.

Some reme­dies ex­ist, even if not per­fect. Men who are vic­tims of get-re­fusal do have the op­tion, through the Rab­bini­cal Court, to be­gin a new fam­ily via a rul­ing of the court. Al­beit, this is a long and ar­du­ous process, re­quir­ing the agree­ment of the Chief Rabbi of Is­rael to his re­mar­riage, the sig­na­tures of one hun­dred rab­bis and his de­posit­ing a “get” – writ of divorce – with the Rab­bini­cal Court, thus free­ing his re­cal­ci­trant wife to re­marry as well. In fact, as was re­cently re­ported on these pages (“Man can marry sec­ond wife af­ter first flees with child,” Jeremy Sharon, Jan­uary 8, 2019), such was the so­lu­tion prof­fered by the Rab­bini­cal Court in Tel Aviv to a hus­band whose wife had left him six years ear­lier, tak­ing their son abroad with her, so as not to be found.

For women vic­tims of get-re­fusal, no such so­lu­tion is of­fered. The wife is bound to her hus­band un­til he ac­qui­esces to ar­range a get. How­ever, a pre­ven­ta­tive mech­a­nism, which pro­tects both hus­band and wife from pos­si­ble fu­ture get-re­fusal, is eas­ily put in place. An “Agree­ment for Mu­tual Re­spect” which is a ha­lachic prenup­tial agree­ment for the preven­tion of get-re­fusal, based on a mon­e­tary mech­a­nism, is read­ily avail­able. In­deed it has been signed by thou­sands of Is­raeli cou­ples in the past two decades and has saved a num­ber of women.

Trag­i­cally, the “clas­sic” aguna does not find a re­lease from her sit­u­a­tion. The woman whose hus­band has dis­ap­peared (as op­posed to the wife’s dis­ap­pear­ance) or who lies in a per­ma­nent veg­e­ta­tive state, is per­ma­nently bound to that hus­band. She is, what I call, a “hus­band­less wife.” This sit­u­a­tion drives home the Jewish law prin­ci­ple that her mar­riage is dis­solved via a get or the de­ter­mi­na­tion of death of the hus­band. In this sit­u­a­tion there is no hope, no pos­si­bil­ity of sal­va­tion. The ex­is­ten­tial angst is im­mea­sur­able and in­de­scrib­able.

IN­STA­BIL­ITY AND un­pre­dictabil­ity of life in to­day’s world are pro­vid­ing a wake-up call to both the layper­son and the scholar of Jewish law. In re­cent his­tory, the Jewish world has wit­nessed ex­am­ples of clas­sic agunot, which in­clude: nine women whose hus­bands per­ished on Septem­ber 11, 2001 in the hor­rific attack on the World Trade Cen­ter, who turned to the Beth Din of Amer­ica to de­ter­mine that they could re­marry; four ad­di­tional agunot who turned to other pri­vate Rab­bini­cal Courts fol­low­ing that ter­ri­ble tragedy; Is­raeli agunot whose hus­bands lie in a per­ma­nent veg­e­ta­tive state due to a traf­fic ac­ci­dent or a failed sui­cide at­tempt or whose hus­band dis­ap­peared in the wa­ters of Lake Kin­neret.

In­stead of clos­ing their eyes to a daunt­ing pos­si­bil­ity that any given woman could sud­denly find her­self an aguna, there are those who ap­proach this prob­lem with eyes wide open. One such ex­pert in Jewish law who seeks to pro­vide a pre­ven­ta­tive so­lu­tion, pre­clud­ing the prob­lem of the “clas­sic” aguna, is Rabbi Prof. Michael J. Broyde.

Rabbi Broyde’s doc­u­ment, the “Tri­par­tite Agree­ment” or in He­brew “Heskem Hachut Hameshu­lash,” is signed just prior to the wed­ding cer­e­mony with the ex­plicit intent of pro­tect­ing the woman. It con­tains a se­ries of ha­lachic mech­a­nisms which build upon each other, such as con­di­tional mar­riage, get-byproxy and a com­mu­nal or­di­nance – to be im­ple­mented when a seem­ingly clas­sic aguna turns to a Rab­bini­cal Court for sal­va­tion. If none of the con­di­tions listed in the doc­u­ment come to pass, then the mar­riage is a bind­ing union, as ex­pected. How­ever, if the hus­band dis­ap­pears or is alive but in­ca­pable of giv­ing a get, then the doc­u­ment signed by both the bride and the groom, spells out their intent that a Rab­bini­cal Court should give the woman a get on the man’s be­half and/or an­nul the sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion of kid­dushin, which took place un­der the bridal canopy.

As tens of cou­ples have signed the “Tri­par­tite Agree­ment” in the US and in Is­rael, this pre­ven­ta­tive so­lu­tion is qui­etly en­ter­ing the dis­course in Jewish law. In re­cent years, a schol­arly ar­ti­cle co-au­thored by Rabbi Broyde and my­self, was pub­lished in the lead­ing Is­raeli jour­nal of Jewish law, Techu­mim. Lec­tures and classes are de­liv­ered, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the work­ings of the agree­ment. For ex­am­ple, the Shab­bat of Jan­uary 19 is ded­i­cated by the In­ter­na­tional Young Is­rael Move­ment in the Cen­tral Ri­mon Syn­a­gogue of Efrat, to the study of the clas­sic aguna prob­lem and this spe­cific so­lu­tion.

Ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that together with the twists and turns of Jewish life, it is a groundswell of educated layper­sons that bring about so­lu­tions to prob­lems, grad­u­ally bringing the rab­binic es­tab­lish­ment to rise to the oc­ca­sion. Our daugh­ters’ fu­tures de­pend on us.

The writer is the di­rec­tor of the Aguna and Get-Re­fusal Preven­tion Project of the In­ter­na­tional Young Is­rael Move­ment in Is­rael and the Jewish Agency. She holds a PhD in rab­binic law and is the first fe­male rab­bini­cal court ad­vo­cate to sit on the Com­mis­sion for the Ap­point­ment of Rab­bini­cal Court Judges.

(Ro­nen Zvu­lun/Reuters)

A JEWISH bride waits for her groom dur­ing a tra­di­tional wed­ding cer­e­mony in Jerusalem.

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