These documents, the button and pages from a newspaper insert, were created by Agunah Inc. and GET (Getting Equitable Treatment), two organizations whose goal was to remedy the problem of agunot (literally, "chained wives"), women whose husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces, known as gittin (singular: get).
Under Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law, a couple is not divorced until a get has been willingly granted by the husband, and willingly accepted by the wife. While remedies exist for husbands whose wives are unwilling to accept a get, unfortunately no such remedies are available for wives. This situation has resulted in many agunot, women whose lives are on hold, while they attempt to convince ex-husbands to release them from marriages that are effectively over, except for the granting of a get.
Agunot are unable to remarry, as they are considered married until they receive a get, even if they are civilly divorced. Should they remarry without having received a get, the penalties are severe. Any children born of the second marriage are considered mamzerim, bastards, unable to marry other Jews, except for other mamzerim. This does not apply to children born of the husband’s second marriage, as men are permitted (under certain circumstances) to have more than one wife. The result is that the woman needs the get more than the man needs to grant it. This imbalance has resulted in terrible suffering for many divorced Jewish women.
From the 1980s to the present day, many agunah activists have tried to remedy this situation. One strategy has been to expose this shameful situation to the Jewish community through publicity. Circulating this agunah pin, and publishing this ad in The Jewish Week, were efforts that attempted to create public awareness.
While these attempts did much to increase knowledge about agunah agony, this unjust situation is still widespread. Sadly, little has really changed. The flyer is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.
Rivka Haut is an Orthodox feminist activist. She has co-edited, with Rabbi Susan Grossman, Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue (JPS, 1992) and, with Phyllis Chesler, Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site (Jewish Lights, 2003). She advocates on behalf of agunot (“chained wives,” whose husbands will not grant them a religious divorce), and teaches Midrash at the Academy of the Jewish Religion. She is a mother of two and grandmother of four.
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