The institution of marriage is a deeply embedded part of Jewish law, culture, and religion, and reflects many of the complexities that embody Judaism. It is the resilience of the Jewish marriage that can result in its very challenges, namely, divorce.
Traditional Jewish law dictates that a divorce document must be given by a man with his own free will. When a man refuses to give his wife a get, or divorce document, this woman is an agunah: literally a chained or anchored woman. Without a get, women are not allowed to remarry under Jewish law.
Agunot have often had little recourse within the Jewish legal system, leaving them without the capability to remarry. While there has been social pressure in the past upon recalcitrant husbands—whose actions constitute a form of domestic abuse—in recent months we have seen a wide scale movement to free agunot. Stemming from the passionate advocacy of activists and influencers, this movement continues to develop, bringing important questions and conversations to the forefront. By considering the painful situation of the agunah, we face the meeting point between humanity and halacha, as traditional law enters the Internet age.
1. Halachic Creativity and Constraint: What does the agunah issue reflect about the halachic system?
2. The Roads to Change: How can we bring individual and institutional change?
3. Social Media and Social Change: What are the possibilities and limitations of media-driven change?
The Agunah, by Chaim Grade, is a classic of Yiddish literature by one of its finest practitioners. Grade is a masterful storyteller and in this novel, he tells the tale of a woman whose husband is lost in the first World War. A powerful portrayal of the emotional tones and conflicts that agunot experience. In the review of this novel for the New York Times, Elie Wiesel writes: “If we take as premise that for the contemporary Jewish writer to write means to testify, then we may affirm that Chaim Grade fulfills his mission with much talent and devotion.” This book is a work of testimony. In a world that has too many agunot with their own agonizing stories, this literary portrayal offers a painful, heartfelt reflection of our own world.