The Agunah Conundrum and the Forsaken Souls of Israel's Children

Reads: 409  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
This essay explores the plight of women in Judaism known as Agunots. Women who are refused a divorce from their Jewish husbands, which keeps them in a state of oppression, and brands their children as bastards. They are never to be allowed into the Jewish community, or to be allowed into heaven upon death. They are the forsaken souls of Israel's children. And they are a huge demographic in this world which has gone largely unnoticed outside of the Jewish community. I personally feel this practice within Judaism is indeed a human rights violation and should not be perpetuated at all.

Submitted: January 10, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 10, 2017



The Agunot Conundrum & the Forsaken Souls of Israel’s Children:

A Global Violation of Human Rights

Within Jewish communities today the situation of the agunot is of dire concern.  Defined as women who often in spite of having acquired a civil divorce, are unable to re-marry since their husbands will not give them a get, which is a religious divorce within the Jewish faith, Jack Nusan Porter (1995) points out that the broad social implications of this issue impacts all Jewish women on a global scale, married or not, regardless of the laws of their state of residency.  Statistics or prevalence rates regarding the agunot issue are difficult to ascertain correctly, however, it is thought to affect countless Jewish women and their successive generations of offspring (Porter 1995).  According to Porter (1995), there appear to be potentially thousands of agunot: “Some say there are over 1,000 in North America and from 5,000 to 16,000 in Israel, with 10,000 cases currently within the Israeli Beit Din system" (xiii). Indeed, "the agunah has become one of the most controversial issues in Orthodox Jewish life" (Porter 1995, xi). While finding a suitable solution to a situation that has gone unresolved to any significant degree for over a thousand years is beyond the scope of this analysis, this essay will critically review the most prominent research and literature on this subject from recent decades from a feminist perspective in an effort to steer resolve toward a corrective route. The primary focus of this essay will be on the rabbinic attitudes towards those recalcitrant husbands who are alive but are unwilling to give a get.

The primary obstacle facing rabbis and women affected by this issue appears to stem from husbands who refuse, or who are unable, to provide a get to their wives in spite of whether they have received a legal divorce in a civil court of law that is recognized by their State of residence.  Known as Recalcitrant Husbands, Lucette Lagnado (1995) explains that this term refers to all husbands who have become absent in their marital duties for any reason.  Examples include scenarios wherein husbands may be unavailable to freely give the get in the spirit of halakhah (Jewish law) due to willful abandonment, or due to unforeseen accidents (such as going missing or falling as victims of crime, murder, etc...), as well as husbands who may be absent due to other more subversive reasons, such as mental or physical illnesses including stroke, coma, or dementia (Levy, 1995), rendering them unable to give consent willingly. While rabbinic leaders have often expressed a desire to help agunot, they are frustrated by these recalcitrant husbands who appear to be driven by either self-serving or vindictive needs. These men adopt the Jewish faith and marry faithful Jewish women, yet willfully refute halakhah in divorce. Confounding the rabbi’s further, no authority to date has been able to stimulate any real change regarding the attitudes of such men.  

Given modern divorce rates which suggest the general breakdown of marriage in the post-modern world this problem is only increasing and must not be left unresolved.  Moreover the fate of countless thousands of illegitimate children of agunot have no voice in the design of their fate.  These illegitimate children are known as “mamzerim” (Hebrew for “bastards”) and as such they are not allowed to participate as full members of the Jewish Community, or even other religious communities.  As decreed by Moses: “One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the congregation of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the congregation of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:2), and rabbinic leaders still follow this decree in their rulings to this day. According to Irwin H. Haut (1995), "Under Jewish law any children of a second marriage are deemed illegitimate (mamzerim), unless any first marriage of either of the spouses was ended by a get…an illegitimate person is prohibited from entering into a marital union with another Jew unless he or she is also illegitimate” (53).  This also means that their children, for all generations, will be born into the status of mamzerim, and there is nothing in life they can do to change this status.  This practice of exclusion and discrimination of mamzerim continues in Jewish communities to this day, and could be argued to be a form of ethnic or cultural sub-humanization of a minority class, which is viewed as a serious human rights violation in most modern civilizations.  Indeed, Moses said many things which civilized society has long since recognized as atrocious and immoral.  As stated by Netty Gross (1995), "Do we sell our 12 year old daughters, sacrifice animals, or indenture people - all of which the Torah permitted? No" (41), we most certainly do not.  Yet all of these things were also advocated at one point by Moses (Deuteronomy 1-24).  This clearly illustrates that as civilizations have evolved, rabbinic leaders have often found it possible to recognize certain practices as having fallen out of favor with the greater consensus of human civilization.  Thus when religious beliefs conflict with human rights, which ideology prevails?  Most often the result has been in favor of the global consensus towards an ethic of mutual regard, human rights, and a paradigm which respects Pluralism (cultural and religious diversity).

To any conscientious mind an immediate resolution of this issue which supports the equal rights of all women is imperative not only for the fate of Jewish women, but for the fate of the entire Jewish community as well.  Therefore, proposed solutions must be able to affect all Jewish women, agunah or married, regardless of their specific situations or states of residence.  Modern thinking rabbinic leaders must reflect on this conundrum deeply, and genuinely. According to Lucette Lagnado (1995), finding a resolution should not be as difficult and long-enduring as has been the case for the plight of the agunot. As Lagnado (1995) asserts, the Torah has been interpreted and reinterpreted to adapt to changing societies throughout history (12).  Moreover, it can also be argued that scriptures emphasize that rabbinic leaders have a duty to “speak up for those who are mute” (Prov. 31:8), in which regard, they have a duty to seek a resolution, and advocate for the inclusion of mamzerim into full Jewish society in a way that does not sub-humanize them. Rabbis must find a solution that interprets scripture in a manner that respects halakhah while respecting human rights in a diverse world.

Judaism is not merely a religion, it is a way of life which permeates one’s personal relationships with other people, animals, nature, and indeed - the entire physical and spiritual universe (Rich, 2011).  According to Tracey R. Rich (2011), there are many rules and practices which must be observed to be considered Jewish, and through its many communal traditions, customs, rituals, rules and practices; Judaism becomes an integral element of one’s spiritual identity and cultural sense of personhood.  These many rules, rituals and practices govern every aspect of a faithful Jew’s daily life, from what one can and cannot eat, to personal grooming, to business conduct, and so on. As Rich (2011) explains, “this set of rules and practices is known as Halakhah”, the aim of which is to foster a closer spiritual connection with God.  While there are several definitions of the term Halakhah, according to Rich (2011), "Jewish Law" is probably the most commonly understood meaning, however, "the path that one walks" may be a more accurate transliteration from the Hebrew root word, which is “Hei-Lamed-Kaf”, and can mean “to go”, “to walk”, or “to travel”.  Through daily observance of halakhah, one integrates a connection with God into each action (Rich 2011).  As was so aptly articulated by Rich (2011) “when you do these things, you are constantly reminded of your relationship with the Divine, and it becomes an integral part of your entire existence”. The very spirit of loving-kindness (or “Chesed”), that is so integral to proper observation of halakhah is also in fact the very same spirit in which a man is contracted to uphold when he takes a Jewish woman as his wife. 

Mark S. Cwik (1999) asserts that marriage is considered "the natural state of Jewish life, and necessary for personal fulfillment” (109).  Moreover, Cwik (1999) asserts that proper observance of halakhah “ensures that a husband and wife can maintain a family with minimum strife” (109).  While respect for the proper observance of halakhah is not technically required for Jews, it is a critical aspect of Jewish faith.  Performing rituals and prayers without observance of halakhah is generally considered to be dis-ingenuous, or disrespectful to God.  The act of willfully loving both one’s husband or wife, and God, is an integral aspect of Jewish faith.  In the Jewish faith only the man can initiate the marriage and the woman must willingly consent (Cwik 1999, 110).  This appears to be the extent of her power.

In the act of initiating marriage with a woman under Jewish law, a man contracts to caring for his wife according to halakhic principles, as mentioned above. These principles include the practice of “Chesed” (loving-kindness) as is practiced and described by God himself in Hosea 2:19, wherein God, who is speaking through Hosea, describes his own relationship with Israel and the Jewish people in this way: “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord”.  In relation to marriage, Chesed means to live with one’s focus pointed at all times on the moral concern for their partner, and to act in ways which contribute to the peace and well-being of the other, in a consistent spirit of love and kindness, following God’s example through his relationship to Israel, which acts as a model for how a Jewish husband should regard his wife.  In this way the couple creates a successful marriage according to rabbinic teaching (Cwik, 1999).

Indeed, a successful marriage is clearly in the interest of rabbinic leaders, as rulings have shown to be consistently concerned with aspect of reproduction by women: Primarily with regards to a Jewish woman’s  duty to “Go forth and multiply” (Genesis 9:7). According to Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1996): “The first blessing is ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen. 1:28); the first commandment is the same (Gen. 9:1, 7), and all children are considered ‘a gift from God’” (61-62). Thus, God’s commandments in Genesis are in direct conflict with the decree of Moses in Deuteronomy (23:2). If all children are a gift from God then how can children born out of wedlock be decreed an affront to God, in spite of the words of Moses? Why would God allow the creation of something which would affront Him? Again, Moses commended many things that are not permitted in our modern world. Rabbi's however, have not always been equitable in deciding which laws of Moses that are not prohibited by Civil or State laws are to be adhered to or modified.  To any reasonable mind it is clear that rabbinic leaders have persisted in discrimination against mamzerim as a misapplication of hermeneutics.

According to Cwik (1999, 109), a legitimate marriage within the Jewish faith has to meet two requirements: 1) both parties must voluntarily and willingly enter the marriage, and 2) there must be a marriage contract or ketubah.  The purpose of the ketubah is to protect the wife financially, emotionally, physically, and socially.  Moreover, the ketubah makes the issue of divorce more difficult with the aim being to ensure that men do not simply abandon their partners without provision for the wife’s financial needs.  The wife must always keep this ketubah on her person and she cannot reside with her husband for any amount of time if this document were to fall out of her possession.  Furthermore, the husband and wife are considered under Jewish law as equal partners in the institution of marriage (Cwik 1999, 110).  While this ideal may be achieved during marriage, it is not so in the process of Divorce.  Deuteronomy 24:1-4 states that:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, 2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, 4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

Clearly, one can see there is an inherent dilemma here. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, the entire passage is determined on the alleged and unquestioned uncleanliness of the woman. Secondly, on one hand, following halakhah, providing a get requires men to release their wives from bonds of marriage in an act of free will, out of love and compassion for each other’s wellbeing. The core problem is that recalcitrant husbands will not provide a get of their free will. Coercion is considered to be forbidden by halakhah because it is deemed to detract him from this act of free will. Coercion, however, has never the less been used historically to a greater or lesser degree by Rabbis. According to Lagnado (1995):

“There have always been problems with recalcitrant husbands, but in the shtetls of Eastern Europe such men were dealt with ruthlessly. The local rabbis would denounces them from the pulpit, ban them from centers of worship, demand that the community boycott their business, declare them to be pariahs, and when necessary, stone them out of town” (5).


Furthermore, as a result of rabbinic ruling, the woman’s choices for herself and for her heirs is distinctly different from men. As asserted by Porter (1995) "Often agunot are abused women as are their children" (xii). There is also a very real potential for the abuse of these women in consideration of financial settlements and in terms of child custody (Porter 1995).  By the man’s failure to honor halakhah, recalcitrant husbands cause dire social and spiritual consequences to women, children, and even rabbinic leaders within their communities (Lagnado, 1995). Such sins must not be allowed to be perpetuated any further within Jewish communities.

These indignities which agunot face also have an immense impact on the children of second marriages.  With the threat of generational consequences, an agunah must consider that any children she bears thereafter in an unholy union will be outcast from the community, and that these offspring cannot marry another Jew unless the person is also mamzerim.  Sadly, these means that individuals cannot support the growth of the Jewish community.  Thus these recalcitrant husbands cause wide sweeping harm on a moral and social level.  Moreover, they appear to be aided by rabbinic application of logic and scripture that appears to favor male privilege. This sentiment is also shared by Porter (1995) who explains:

"Jewish divorce law is unequal in the rights it gives to men and women. Not only must the man give a get to a woman in order to free her from marriage (but not vice versa), but also any children he may conceive out of wedlock (with an unmarried woman) are considered legitimate, whereas any children conceived by the wife with another man are considered mamzerim (bastards)” (xii-xiii).


Is this, therefore, truly a religious issue? Or is it a social problem? Or is it both? Just as it is the man who initiates the marriage, he is also traditionally the only one who can initiate the divorce upon finding something unfavorable about his wife (Cwik 1995, 112). Thus equality is not at play given that the husband thereby controls the process of divorce. The very language and process focuses on the presumption of the “uncleanliness (Deuteronomy 24:1) of the wife.  While there are numerous case examples of the difficulties facing women and the legal, civil and religious systems in attempting remedies (Porter, 1995), for most women the only option is to leave their religion.

As one becomes more familiar with the finer details of these difficulties, one begins to see a pattern of skewed hermeneutics in favor of male privilege: a mentality which values the spiritual salvation of all Jewish men as holier than the spiritual salvation of Jewish women.  This skew in rabbinic leader’s rulings is also articulated by Porter (1995): "If an estranged wife chooses to ignore Jewish law and decides to remarry, she is considered an adulteress, whereas the same behavior on the part of the man carries no such stigma" (xiii). Men have total control over the process by law, "if a wife refuses to accept a get, her husband can request a court of 100 rabbis to issue the divorce. Or he can forego the get and remarry....thanks to ...the old testament lay that men may have more than one wife" (Lagnado 1995, 5).  Indeed, according to Rich (2011) “Around 1000 C.E., Ashkenazic Jewry banned polygamy, but it continued to be permitted for Sephardic Jews.”  This means that there is little stopping a husband from simply leaving his first wife and taking on a second wife.  His children of that union enjoy full membership in the Jewish community, and his wife is not deemed to be an adulteress.  This pattern of discriminatory consequences again supports a notion that these interpretations are based on the perpetuation of male privilege.

A Jewish woman’s religion has become her defining community where all her relationships occur, and where her sense of identity exists.  Thus forcing women to leave, and to lose their chance for spiritual salvation, is too high a cost to ask of a Jewish woman. To do so is not only further evidence of the devaluation of women in general, but also of the clear disregard for a genuine observance of halakhah on the part of rabbinic leaders themselves. Thus it must be argued that leaving her religion in order to fulfill her practical and spiritual need to bear children is not a human solution and therefore not a true option.

Furthermore, there is variation within the Jewish community with regard to the necessity of a get to dissolve a marriage, in turn freeing the wife to remarry.  According to Sharon Shenhav (1995) "the Reform Rabbinate does not require a get to perform a marriage for a Jew who has been previously married.  The Conservative Movement, in following halakhah, requires a get for the religious dissolution of a marriage" (35). Clearly these rabbinic leaders have found it possible to arrive at scripturally acceptable resolutions within their own faith denominations.  Denominations which still struggle with this issue should strive to work together with others who have resolved this dilemma, in an effort to create a respectful solution that can be applied across all the denominations of Judaism.

With regard to the many different options that are available to women due to the role of state/civil law, there has always been tension between the need to preserve halakha and the need to preserve human rights.  Religious ethics guide interpretation of the Torah to preserve halakhah, while Human rights, which are also of importance to halakhah, are issued by the state.  Furthermore, while the need to preserve human rights falls in the arena of civil law, religious law tends to over-rule State law for those with faith in religion, and therein lies the problem: to what degree can religious freedom be tolerated within the larger civil arena?  Rabbis, law makers and members of the Jewish community must ask themselves: Is it civilized to force faithful Jewish women to give up their human rights for membership in their community of origin?  To what degree can these women be expected to give up their rights, their heritage and their way of life, before religion can no longer be considered tolerable in this civilized, post-modern world? 

In greater civilization, the State will not allow any religious doctrine to contravene laws concerning child rearing, mandatory education of minors, property crimes, sexual crimes, animal abuse crimes, and a host of other crimes such as income tax evasion and hate based crimes.  The denial of women’s rights by religious organizations, however, do not get addressed much beyond ensuring a woman’s purely physical safety. For instance, churches, and indeed any public media outlet, cannot invite or promote hate-mongering, terrorist values or attitudes, and cannot steal or murder or invite others to commit these crimes in the name of God under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Civil Law. Yet religious organizations can sanction the rights of others in many ways such as through marriage and lifestyle.  Thus, to what degree can a society allow itself to tolerate this conflict between Religious and Civil law, and still call itself civilized?  

According to Lagnado (1995): “Until recently Judges were reluctant to involve themselves in the granting of a get because of concerns about maintaining the separation of church and state” (5).  Certain denominations within the Jewish community have indeed begun to show a change in perspective towards agunot. Levy V. Yael (1993-1994) explains that Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform perspectives have all begun to seek out solutions regarding conflicts between biblical law and civil law, in an effort to find scripturally acceptable ways to resolve this issue (62-64). Similarly, Lagnado (1995) points out that "some Orthodox leaders are even urging rabbinical courts to utilize their authority to dissolve a marriage. That way, there will be no more agunot" (13). According to Sharon Shenhav (1995), Conservative rabbis have been willing to annul a marriage, and women thus finding release are allowed to remarry by a Conservative rabbi (35).  Furthermore, Reform rabbis held a conference in Philadelphia back in 1869 which resolved the issue within their congregations through the use of dissolution of the marriage contract (Yael 1993-1994, 62). In this instance, Reform rabbis resolved this debate through the reasoning that divorce, like a business contract, is a civil matter, and should therefore be regulated accordingly, however, the conference ultimately ruled that civil divorce would only be recognized if a panel of rabbis found that the reason for it is in conformity with the spirit of halakhah (Yael 1993-1994, 63).

Moreover, regarding State laws, according to Peter Hellman (1995), "In Israel, where there are no civil marriage or divorces, only religious ones" (20), the state can enforce parties to appear before the rabbinical court.  At one time the rabbis could even “impose corporal punishment on a man who refused to give a get” (Lagnado 1995, 6). Unfortunately, however, according to Netty C. Gross (1995), nowadays in Israel a husband who refuses to grant a get will either be encouraged to go home and be nice to his wife; admonished to grant her a get because it is mitzvah; or be given a “‘forced divorce' decree. That last option means jailing the man until he agrees to grant her the get, but it's rarely used" (40).  Hellman also recounts how Sheldon Silver introduced a bill in 1984 in Albany, New York to address the problem of recalcitrant husbands by an attempt to remove the barrier to remarriage, which was signed into law in 1984 (Hellman 1995, 21).  The bill allowed the civil courts to consider such factors as withholding a get when determining the division of property and the provision of maintenance for the wife (Hellman 1995, 21).  This law, however, was found to contravene the stipulation of free will and deemed to be against halakhah (Hellman 1995, 21).  Unlike American law, however, according to Irwin H. Haut (1995), "The Canadian legislature has enacted a law in which neither party to a civil divorce proceeding may obtain any relief from the court unless he or she complies fully with the get procedures" (55). This novel display of cooperation between Religion and State speaks to the larger social consensus of civilized life in Canada, which implies the expectation of policies that promote cultural diversity and a tone of acceptance.

The Rabbis’ role in all of this, however, is to preserve halakhah, while the State’s role is to preserve human rights. Hence, one must ask, are rabbinic leaders truly preserving halakhah for either party?  This is a problem which is also articulated by Gross (1995), who explains that “applying pressure more often or more creatively - for instance, by imposing financial penalties - could produce an ‘unwilling get’, that is, an invalid divorce and a woman still really married, or so the rabbis argue” (40).  

Unfortunately these legal issues remain largely unresolved, however, as some of the issues that the courts struggle with involve rather obscure concepts for civil law to contend with. Concepts such as ethical debates between free-will versus the use of coercion debate how to create laws which work to promote free will, and use less barbaric and more logical methods of coercion. Some of the proposed solutions to this end have include calls for the ex-communication and denial of human rights for the recalcitrant husband and his children, but this only leads to yet more human rights violations, and is essentially the crux of the problem (Bleich, 1998). Further options have suggested changing the interpretation of religious laws or building an exception clause into the Ketubah (Light, 2013). The problems with these propositions are that the time taken to come to any determinations on these issues can be quite extensive, and seem to betray the attitude that the hidden goal is, and has always been, to ultimately find an option that does not detract from the deeply entrenched conviction of Jewish male privilege.

As applied, the rabbinic interpretation of the biblical rules of marriage and divorce appear to attest that the Rabbi's consider the Jewish Male's spiritual salvation of greater importance than that of a Jewish woman's: which is only further evidence of the devaluation of women within the religion at large, and the lack of genuine concern on the part of the rabbinic leaders to follow halakhah themselves.  The only aspect that seems to be important to a rabbinic leaders is when it would appear that a Rabbi is personally to blame for interfering with a Jewish woman’s religious duties regarding procreation by not resolving her inability to obtain a get, by assisting her in removing the barriers to obtaining a get.  Second to this is the loss of membership that the community suffers when the children born out of religious wedlock are prohibited from full membership in the Jewish religion and participation in their greater ethnic and cultural heritage, as mentioned above.  By the acknowledgment that women of child bearing years are not able to fulfill their mandate to “go forth and multiply” (Genesis 9:7), and are thus reducing the potential size of the community, it seems that Rabbis become motivated to assist a woman to obtain a get because now their own salvation is at risk.  While sympathetic to the plight of agunot, the lack of any sense of urgency to find a resolution reflects a genuine lack of concern on the part of rabbinic leaders for the true gravity of the plight of agunot.  When examined closely, their motivations are often not so much out of genuine concern for the woman, but for their position, largely due to the possibility that they could somehow be committing a great sin for causing harm to the Jewish community defying God in denying her fulfillment of the commandment by God to reproduce and through the exclusion of her offspring, the many thousands of mamzerim. These concerns seem to rest on top of the moral responsibility of wreaking havoc with a woman’s spiritual salvation, but this latter aspect has not shown to be much of a motivator.  

To what degree can coercion then be justified before it interferes with halakha and becomes overly coercive, such that the halakha requirement of free will is never met? Furthermore, how can rabbinic leaders ethically and genuinely reconcile their professed impotence when it comes to finding a solution to the plight of agunot?  How can Rabbis reconcile the sin of creating all of these lost souls through their obstinacy: the souls of God’s chosen children?  Perhaps the better question is: Would God forgive the continued persecution of the daughters of Israel and their children, who have been placed in a position in which they will never be allowed into Olam HaBa (the Jewish afterlife)?  By these practices they thwart the woman from her duty to procreate according to the will of God thereby placing her in a position of defiance to God’s decree to “Go forth and multiply” (Genesis 9:7).  All because their husbands are unfaithful to the Lord through their own refusal to observe halakhah?  Would God forgive these rabbi's knowing that all the souls of these Jewish women and their future children, and their children’s children are to be doomed for eternity?  Forever excluded from ever knowing His light and grace? Is this truly how they wish the Word of God to be interpreted?

Glenn Frankel (1995) believes that many women feel the problem is not with religious law, rather, the problem lies with rabbis who have authority and monopoly and who refuse to use the tools available to them, (31).  Moreover, as asserted by Lagnado (1995), “even within the confines of Orthodoxy, rabbis have the power to free [agunot] from bondage...The problem is not biblical but sexist" (12).  According to Porter (1995), however, “the real fear and barrier [may be] the danger of legalizing a possibly adulterous union" (xii), and that "what is really needed is new takkanah, a new ruling by the Gedolin, the Council of Rabbis" (xii). Indeed, regardless of the reasons, unless this occurs, it is unlikely that a solution to this issue will ever be resolved (Porter 1995, xiv). Furthermore, as expressed by Lagnado (1995), "nowhere in the world, not even in Israel can they force a man to give his wife a get...the old strategies of coercion have broken down" (5). As stated by Irwin H. Haut (1995), "these women remain "anchored" indefinitely unless they are willing to violate Jewish law" (53).  Thus rabbinic leaders must resolve to achieve a consensus and finally take action to resolve this transgression against the forsaken daughters of Abraham, and sons of Israel, who through no fault of their own bear the sins of their fathers for eternity.  Further discriminatory application of religious ethics with the aim of manipulating the definition of halakhah will only complicate the issue of free will, which seems to suggest that Rabbi’s would rather engage in a misapplication of logic than renounce the obvious “male privilege” elephant in the room, and actually adapt the laws so that are more reflective of the true spirit of halakhah.

To this effect, a greater awareness regarding the plight of Israel’s agunot is needed.  As Lagnado asserts, “rabbinical scholars need to be more sensitive to the needs of women” (12).  The available research all speaks to a clear, unquestionable necessity for a fair, pluralistic, and feminist informed resolution to this issue.  





Bleich, J. David. “Survey of Recent Halakhic Periodical Literature: Kiddushei ta' ut: Annulment

as a Solution to the Agunah Problem”. Tradition, 33(1) Rabbinical Council of America, 1998.


Carr, Anne, and Mary Steward Van Leeuwen, eds. Religion, Feminism, and the Family.

Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1996. Print.


Chigier, Moshe. “Ruminations over the Agunah Problem”. Porter 73 - 92. Print.


Cwik, Marc S. “The Agunah Divorce Problem In Jewish Society: Exploring The Possibility Of

An International Law Solution”. Wisconsin International Law Journal, 17(1): 109 - 144.


Feldman, Steven. “Grappling with Divorce and Jewish Law”. Porter 213 - 218. Print.


Frankel, Glenn. “The Rabbinical Ties That Bind”. Porter 27 - 31. Print.


Frymer-Kensky, Tivka. “The Family in the Hebrew Bible”. Carr 55 - 73. Print.


Greenberg, Blu. “Jewish Women's Rights: For the Love of Law”. Porter 207 - 212. Print.


Gross, Netty C. “A Horror Story: Ours”. Porter 39 - 41. Print.


Haut, Irwin H. “‘The Altar Weeps’ - Divorce in Jewish Law”. Porter 45 - 59. Print.


Hellman, Peter. “Playing Hard to Get”. Porter 15 - 23. Print.


Holy Bible, The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.


Jacob, Marvin E. “The Agunah Problem and the So-Called New York State Get Law: A legal

and Halachic Analysis”. Porter 159 - 184. Print.


Klagsbrun, Francine. “The Struggle of the Agunot”. Porter 231 - 233. Print.


Lagnado, Lucette. “Of Human Bondage”. Porter 3 - 13. Print.


Lewin, Nathan. “A Real-life Solution To The Agunah Problem”. Baltimore Jewish Times. Jan 03



Levy, Yael V. “The Agunah And The Missing Husband: An America Solution To A Jewish

Problem”. Journal of Law and Religion, 10(1): 49-71. 1993- 1994.


Light, Caroline. “A Predominant Cause of Distress: Gender, Benevolence, and the Agunah in

Regional Perspective”. John Hopkins University Press. American Jewish History, 97(2): 59 -

182. April 2013.


Meiselman, Moshe. “Jewish Women in Jewish Law: Solutions to Problems of Agunah”. Porter  

61 – 71. Print.


Porter, Jack Nusan, ed. Women in Chains: A Sourcebook on the Agunah. Northvale, New

Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc, 1995. Print.


Porter, Jack Nusan. “Introduction: The Agunah - A Personal Perspective: Notes on the

Sourcebook for the ‘Chained Wife’”. Porter xi - xx. Print.


Rackman, Honey. “Getting a Get”. Porter 219 - 229. Print.


Rich, Tracey R. “Halakhah: Jewish Law - What is Halakhah?” Judaism 101. 1995 - 2011. Web. 

18 Dec. 2015


Riskin, Shlomo. “A Modern Orthodox Perspective”. Porter 187 - 194. Print.


Sassoon, Isaac S. D. “The tears of the oppressed: An Examination of the Agunah Problem:

Background and Halakhic Sources”. ProQuest Research Library. Judaism; Winter 2005;

54(1/2): 116.


Schereschewsky, Ben-Zion, and Menachem Elon. “Agunah”. Encyclopedia Judaica. Ed.

Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA,

2007. 510 - 520. Gale Virtual Reference Library. 5 Nov. 2015. Web.


Schwarz, Sidney H. “Conservative Judaism and the Agunah”. Porter 195 - 203. Print.


Shenhav, Sharon. “The Agunah: An Ancient Problem in Modern Dress”. Porter 33 - 38. Print.


Zion-Waldoks, Tanya. “Agency, Feminism, and Religion among Orthodox Agunah Activists in

Israel”. Gender and Society, 29(1): 73 - 97. February 2015.


Zwiebel, Chaim Dovid. “Tragedy Compounded: The Aguna Problem and New York's

Controversial New ‘Get Law’”. Porter 141 - 157. Print.

© Copyright 2020 Coo Coo Ka Choo. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

More Religion and Spirituality Essays