Agunot

Israel and Middle East news source Haaretz recently revealed joint plans by Orthodox Rabbis in Israel and Europe, to identify Jewish men who prevent their wives from seeking a get, or Jewish divorce.

Such women are called “agunot”, a literal translation being “chained women”. In the past, a wife was given this status if either her husband was missing presumed dead, or if he became mentally ill. Increasingly over recent years however, this term has applied to circumstances where the husband simply refuses to comply with his wife’s wishes. If their husbands refuse to agree to a religious divorce, then these women will never be able to remarry. In addition, any child born outside of the marriage, known as a “mamzer”, will also never be able to marry. In order for a Jewish divorce to be able to proceed, the husband must agree of his own free will.

Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts Division for Agunot says that the problem of stubborn husbands refusing to grant a divorce is widespread, with many choosing instead to leave Israel and relocate to Europe, thereby leaving their wives unable to continue with their lives.

It was obvious to the Rabbis that any solution therefore needed the support of all Rabbis both in Israel and Europe. A database containing knowledge which could be shared, it was felt, would be the ideal solution. The details contained in the database would not prevent these men from fleeing Israel, admitted Rabbi Maimon, but would stop them “…feeling welcome anywhere”.

Currently, around 180 names are included on the database, information gathered principally by Israeli Rabbis. However, it is hoped that another 30 European rabbinical courts will also contribute information, to make the database much more extensive. Once that step has been completed, it is then the Rabbis’ intention to include information from rabbinical courts in the US.

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