You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Agunah

Jewish Feminism in the United States

Challenging all varieties of American Judaism, feminism has been a powerful force for popular Jewish religious revival. Of America’s four Jewish denominations, all but the Orthodox have accepted women as rabbis and cantors.

International Coalition for Agunah Rights (ICAR)

An [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:291]agunah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (plural: agunot) is a woman “chained” to a husband either unwilling or unable to grant her a Jewish divorce. Because [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:317]halakhah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (Jewish law) requires that the get (the divorce document) be granted by the husband, an agunah cannot remarry, and any subsequent children she bears are considered mamzerim (illegitimate children) who can never marry legitimate Jews. Legal loopholes exist to allow non-divorced husbands to remarry; none exist to help wives. The plight of agunot has become an increasing problem in contemporary times, with Jewish communities unable to pressure recalcitrant husbands into granting divorces to their wives. In addition, in the State of Israel, both marriage and divorce fall within the realm of religious law; there is no civil alternative.

Divorce: The Halakhic Perspective

Many scholars in the area of Jewish marriage and divorce point proudly to the fact that Jewish marriage is a private ordering between individuals. Those scholars claim that Jewish marriage is a matter of contract between two willing parties, and therefore, unlike the custom in most liberal Western democratic countries, the parties, not the state, determine their personal status. The parties by agreement can decide to get divorced, in the same way that they decided to marry. No reason need be alleged for the divorce. No fault is relevant. No time need elapse between separation and divorce. In theory, parties can marry one day, divorce the next, and then remarry without delay or period of separation.

Conservative Judaism in the United States

Women have played a pivotal role in Conservative Judaism throughout the twentieth century and have been instrumental on both the grass-roots and national levels in propelling the Conservative Movement to confront essential issues including Jewish education, gender equality and religious leadership. The Conservative Movement’s attention over the decades to issues such as the religious education of Jewish girls, the status of the ]agunah (deserted wife), equal participation of women in ritual and the ordination of women has helped to shape the self-definition of Conservative Judaism and its maturation as a distinct denomination.

Jewish and Muslim Marriage Contracts get a Facelift

The ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, is one of the oldest continuously used documents within Judaism.  That said, over the course of the past thirty years or so, many ketubahs have undergone a makeover so that rather than simply act as a business document that lists the items in the bride's trousseau and the amount of zuzim (silver pieces) that the groom has to set aside for her well-being, many contemporary ketubahs reflect the equal partnership that the marrying couple are entering in to.

Chained Wives Sentenced to Marriage

A few years ago, I saw the Israeli film Sentenced To Marriage which documents the stories and experiences of agunot, Jewish women whose husbands refuse to grant them a get (divorce contract) leaving them as "chained wives." It was rather sobering to learn about these women (religious and secular alike) whose self-determination is trumped by oppressive men, and falls prey to the less-than-sympathetic judgments of the rabbinical high court.

Fast of Esther and Marriage Enslavement

Today is Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther), a minor Fast day commemorating the three day fast observed by the Jewish people in the story of Purim Ta’anit Esther is the only time in the Jewish calendar that wholly commemorates the power of a single woman to exercise courage in changing the course of Jewish history.

Ending Abuse Through Activism and Ritual

Few people use their employment bonuses to start an organization of their own. But at 23, Holly Shulman -- listed in “Real Hot 100” -- is setting a new standard. Instead of enhancing her wardrobe or beefing up her music collection, Shulman used her bonus to found “Vote Against Violence,” a political action committee to combat domestic violence and sexual assault.

Pages

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Agunah." (Viewed on December 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/tags/agunah>.

Donate

Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Sign Up for JWA eNews

 

Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs