By Rochelle Maruch Miller
In a letter of endorsement written last June, in which they addressed the rabbis, lay leaders, and members of the Jewish community, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, av beth din, Beth Din of America, and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, rosh kollel, RIETS, described the plight of agunos as “a terrible challenge that, tragically, our community has had to face. We are deeply pained by the heart-wrenching stories of women from our community who have been denied a get long after their marriages have been deemed irreconcilable. By denying a get, recalcitrant husbands maliciously distort the beauty of our Torah and cause a grave chilul Hashem, while inflicting immense pain on their wives who remain chained in dead marriages.”
In their heartfelt letter, the esteemed rabbanim endorsed the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot–ORA–as “an outstanding nonprofit organization which resolves agunah cases within the confines of halachah and civil law. ORA is the only nonprofit organization addressing the agunah crisis around the world on a case-by-case basis. They have assisted in the resolution of over 175 agunah cases in Jewish communities throughout North America and around the world. We have worked with them and fully support their efforts to bring these women from darkness to light, from captivity to freedom.”
Founded in 2002, ORA has provided over 190 women with their long-awaited freedom as of this writing. On any given day, their caseworkers handle an average of 60 cases. ORA has transformed tragic situations that were once deemed hopeless into extraordinary success stories. They enable agunot to achieve their freedom, extricate themselves from abusive marriages, and move forward with their lives.
ORA believes that a get should never be used as a weapon. The Jewish divorce process requires participation of both parties; all too often, a spouse refuses to comply in order to control the other party and utilize the get to extort concessions. ORA strives to eliminate the infliction of abuse within the Jewish divorce process. ORA resolves current cases of get-refusal by combining facilitation with advocacy and prevents future cases by promoting the universal adoption of halachic prenuptial agreements.
Those who reach out to ORA for help have nowhere else to turn. An organization like no other, it provides hope and gives voice to the most vulnerable members of our community. ORA offers four essential services:
Agunah Advocacy. ORA empowers agunot and their communities to take a firm stand against get refusal. Their dedicated caseworkers formulate and spearhead an individualized action plan for each agunah by facilitating communication between all parties, navigating Jewish and civil court systems trailblazing new approaches to case resolution, and rallying public support. When necessary, they apply social, communal, financial, and legal pressure to ensure that a get is given unconditionally and in a timely fashion.
Agunah Support. The ordeal of an agunah can be isolating and overwhelming. ORA constitutes a critical support system which eases the agunah’s emotional burden and inspires hope. Their staff provides a sympathetic ear and serves as an experienced and knowledgeable resource to guide each agunah in her journey toward freedom.
Get Facilitation. “The get itself must be written by an experienced sofer and costs several hundred dollars,” explained Rabbi Jeremy Stern, the organization’s executive director. “We ensure that the cost of writing a get never prevents a woman from receiving her freedom.”
Educational Programs. ORA is committed not only to resolving agunah cases, but preventing them as well. Through its educational programs at Jewish day schools and college campuses throughout North America, ORA staff members educate students and communities about the agunah crisis, about what ORA does, and how we can prevent future agunah situations through the utilization of a halachic prenuptial agreement.
The 60-90 minute interactive presentation introduces students to the concept of agunah in classical Jewish sources, to the abusive nature of get refusal, and to the importance of halachic prenuptial agreement as a method of preventing future agunah cases. The signature program empowers its participants to protect themselves through the marriage process and serve as advocates within their own communities.
ORA seeks to establish the Pre-Nup as a community-wide standard and foster a culture that does not tolerate manipulation in the Jewish divorce process. ORA takes the toughest cases involving men who refuse to give a get unconditionally, says Rabbi Stern. The organization counsels and works with husbands, employing persuasion, social pressure, and, when necessary, public rallies, until a get is obtained. “There is no one else doing this work, taking all the necessary steps in the get process for such a large number of women,” Rabi Stern says.
ORA does not charge for its services. “We don’t take sides in a get,” Rabbi Stern explains. “We represent the get.” He adds, “A rally is the last thing we want to do to resolve a case. We do them only as a last resort.”
Please show your support for this extraordinary organization by attending a parlor meeting to benefit ORA The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, Tuesday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. at the home of Alissa and David Hersh, 810 Channel Road, Woodsburgh. The event will feature presentations by Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, Esq., dean of students Columbia Law School; Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director, ORA; and a former agunah freed by ORA will also share her personal story. v