Supporting Agunot

Dear Editor,

Aliza BasMenachem’s December 6 article on agunot (“The Get Obsession”) is as off-base as it is offensive, suggesting agunot are dramatic and self-absorbed. Her “suck it up, others have it worse” message is particularly galling. Would anyone say such a thing to a widow, a person with a serious illness, or a parent with a sick child? It is more than insulting to say that agunot shouldn’t be “obsessed” with remarrying because “there are so many opportunities for women in today’s society.” (Take up a hobby. Rainbow Loom looks like fun.) Or her comment that “if Hashem has a bashert for her, then Hashem has ways of making her available so they can marry.” Hashem can also end poverty and cure cancer, but for those affected, life isn’t exactly a picnic. Or her suggestion that this is an “opportunity to grow her character.” So is leprosy. Gam zu l’tovah!

Beyond the insensitivity, the column completely misses the main issue, which is that our community needs to do more to prevent vindictive husbands from abusing the system in order to abuse their wives. Since our poskim have been unable to identify a halachic way to level the playing field, the onus is on our community institutions and leaders to support agunot, prevent the crisis from worsening, and pressure recalcitrant husbands.

While the Rabbinical Council of America supports the concept of prenuptial agreements that impose a financial penalty on the husband if he fails to provide a get, much of the Orthodox community, including Agudath Israel of America, does not. More troubling is that these husbands seem to have no difficulty finding acceptance in their synagogues and communities. In the highly publicized Dodelson case, the husband is himself from a prominent rabbinic family that continues to support his position. And the venerable ArtScroll publishing house continued to employ members of the husband’s family who aggressively defended him until they temporarily resigned following a recent public outcry.

One wonders if the callousness towards agunot expressed by Ms. BasMenachem isn’t what underlies the tepid organizational efforts we have seen so far. Instead of telling agunot to make lemonade, we should be putting the squeeze on get-withholding husbands.

Joshua Schein

Dear Editor,

I will pray that Aliza BasMenachem is never an agunah, nor her children or grandchildren.

It is not Hashem’s plan for any woman to be held captive by a husband who refuses a get, just as it is not Hashem’s plan for a man to beat his wife or perform any other act of emotional or physical harm. The author’s lack of sympathy for a woman who is a victim of an abuse of halachah is alarming. Has she no empathy for her fellow women? Has she ever met an agunah? Does she know one story? Could she put herself in the shoes of an agunah for a moment, a day, or a year?

I have had the honor of meeting agunot over the years, and their courage and faith is astonishing. They are not asking for a get to be able to remarry–as suggested in the article–nor are they unappreciative to Hashem for the love and health of their children and family. The agunot are asking for a get to be free–free from a relationship with a man who does not love them or treat them with kindness or respect in the manner in which all human beings deserve to be treated.

Their struggle is one I would never wish on my friend or foe. For this reason, I strongly support the work of ORA (Organization for the Resolution of Agunot) and will continue to support the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) approved prenuptial agreement and postnuptial agreement forms to reduce the number of casualties afflicted by men who behave like indolent, spoiled children.

Our shuls and community should stand up against men who withhold the get as a tool for manipulating divorce proceedings or extorting money. This affects all Jewish women and should not be tolerated. Refusal [to give] a get is a chillul Hashem.

I strongly recommend that each member of our community act to prevent further cases of agunot and only accept a marriage where husband and wife sign a prenuptial agreement. If a man is mature enough to marry, and sincerely loves his kallah, he will not prohibit this act of protection. Jewish men and women, here and elsewhere, can change the status quo and make the world a better place for their sons and daughters. Before the chuppah, ask to meet with the rabbi to sign a prenuptial agreement, or visit and print the prenuptial agreement and have it notarized.

Alissa Hersh, MD

Dear Editor,

I think I speak on behalf of many 5TJT readers when I say that I was appalled at Aliza BasMenachem’s article “The Get Obsession.” I am almost as appalled that the 5TJT published it. I am curious to know what her base of knowledge is on the topic of Jewish marriage and divorce, and specifically the state of mind of an agunah, that makes her feel she is an expert on the topic. The painful issue of agunot and get-refusal is not one to be taken lightly or to be written about flippantly.

I personally know many women–amazing, courageous, strong, G‑d-fearing women–who have found themselves in the horrific position of being agunot, chained women. I have also attended many meetings and other events to raise awareness of the issue and to support the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot. I recently went to a parlor meeting for ORA that was attended by many prominent members of our community who recognize the travesty of withholding a get. I wish that Aliza BasMenachem could have attended that evening to hear directly from an agunah whose husband has withheld her get for more than six years. Hers is not the story of a woman who focuses on her wish to be free to remarry, nor a woman who has lost faith in Hashem, or fails to recognize the blessing of healthy family or children. She is a woman who wakes up every morning, puts her best face forward, and is a successful businesswoman and a loving mother. But she lives in a community where she feels the stigma of being an agunah, and where she is judged daily, and unfairly, by a community that knows nothing of her pain and suffering.

I wish that Aliza BasMenachem could have met another young woman I know, who was abused both emotionally and physically by her husband throughout their marriage, and whose husband then disappeared one night along with all their life savings and still refuses to give her a get “because he can.” This young, penniless mother, who has suffered more than I would wish upon anyone, is not, as the author says, “obsessing about her desire to remarry” or having her children “witness their mother as a victim who is suffering.” To the contrary, she has chosen to take her challenges and channel them into being a stronger woman and a fantastic mother, and to encourage other victims of abuse to keep their emunah in Hashem.

Unfortunately, I could go on and on about the many agunot I have been privileged to know or come in contact with who are truly inspirational, and who have more strength in one pinkie than most of us have in our entire bodies.

I found the article to be insulting to our mothers, sisters, and daughters who have been and continue to be held hostage to a man’s will. Refusing to give a get is an abuse of halachah and should not be tolerated. At all. No human being should hold another human being captive. The suggestion that this is Hashem’s plan and that Hashem can choose when to make her “available” is absurd. Hashem does not “force” any man to withhold a get, just as I do not believe Hashem “forces” a man to beat his wife; free will enables every man to make those despicable choices for himself.

The author ends her article with the suggestion that women want a get because they are “obsessed with remarriage.” I think that there is an obsession, but it is not an obsession to remarry–it is an obsession for freedom. Would she deny that right to any person? What does that say about her character?

May Hashem never “choose” for the author or her loved ones to know the grief and pain that agunot face each day.

Naomi Maryles


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