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Agunah Crisis

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 husbandswhose actions constitute a form of domestic abusein 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.

 

Agunah Crisis: Our Central Questions

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?

EPISODES

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Rabbi Shlomo Weissman - head of Beth Din of America, YU Professor, and former lawyer - about the halakhic complexities of, and attempted solutions for, the agunah crisis.
In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Keshet Starr - CEO of ORA - about what it’s like to work on the front lines of agunah activism.
In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Bari Mitzmann - Instagram content creator and host of the Women of Valor podcast - about social media advocacy, particularly in regard to the agunah crisis.
In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to an anonymous divorced man who gives us his perspective on the divorce process and the need to protect oneself from his own darkest inclinations.

ARTICLES

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RECOMMENDED READING

The Agunah

Chaim Grade

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.

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