Truth About the Agunah Crisis

Misconceptions About the Agunah Crisis

One of the most widely misunderstood issues in the Jewish community is the alleged agunah crisis. Few issues have been more thoroughly distorted and confused in the Jewish media, including both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish media.

A popular misconception being spread by many Jewish feminist groups is that a rampant agunah crisis of women allegedly chained by malicious husbands exists. The website of one feminist organization claimed that an agunah is “a woman whose husband refuses to grant her a Jewish divorce upon request.” In fact there is simply no basis in Jewish tradition for such a concept, and the feminists never quote an authentic Torah source to substantiate this claim.

Within Jewish marriage, neither husband nor wife may initiate arbitrary divorce on demand.  Such a perverse concept simply does not exist in authentic Judaism, despite the rampant feminist misinformation in the Jewish media.

Jewish law is not unreasonable or unjust. A legitimate reason, recognized by normative halacha (Jewish law), must exist before a Jewish spouse may forcibly divorce their spouse. Just because a Jewish husband arbitrarily demands that his wife accept a GET (writ of divorce), or just because a Jewish wife arbitrarily demands that her husband deliver a GET, does not entitle them to enforce their will on their spouse.

Under halacha,  one may not divorce their spouse simply because they “do not like” them anymore. For example, if a Jewish wife gains 20 or 30 lbs., and her husband decides he doesn’t like her anymore, he does not have the right under halacha to just discard her like an old pair of shoes.

Only a kosher Bais Din can rule that a Jewish spouse may forcibly divorce their spouse, not a pulpit rabbi or a feminist organization, after both parties have willingly appeared before the Bais Din.

If a Jewish wife’s husband is not living with her (or visiting her) due to no fault or actions by the wife, and the wife is not able to receive a GET, then that wife may have the status of a real agunah.  For example, if a Jewish wife’s husband apparently died when the World Trade Center collapsed, that wife might have the status of an agunah. Another common example of a legitimate agunah discussed in various halachic sources is the case of a woman whose husband traveled overseas, and later she received a report that he had died. This is the authentic type of “agunah” which the great halachic authorities of the past would attempt to release.

In addition to agunot, there also exist today some Jewish men whose wives refuse to live with them, and also refuse to accept a GET, all the while attempting to extract concessions from the husbands. Or some ex-wives may have obtained civil court orders requiring the men to pay very high payments to their ex-wives, preventing them from being able to afford remarriage. Even if theoretically men can obtain permission under Jewish law to marry another wife, in practice such permission may be very difficult or very expensive to obtain, so that these men might be considered de-facto “agunim“, ie chained men. This is a subject almost never discussed in the generally very pro-feminist Jewish media.

Today there exists a small number of authentic agunos and agunim whose situation did not result from their own misdeeds, such as use of non-Jewish courts. These individuals certainly deserve community support, as long as such assistance is supervised by an expert rabbinic authority who strictly complies with traditional halacha. The fact that a small number of authentic agunos may exist does not justify the absurd demagogic claims by agunah organizations of thousands of alleged agunot.

Many of the women falsely claiming to be agunos today in fact have litigated in family courts in violation of halacha. The feminist rabbis and organizations never seem to hold these women accountable for their actions. Despite the claims of certain pro-feminist rabbis, the fact that a woman sued her husband for divorce in a non-Jewish family court does not in any way grant her any halachic entitlement to a GET, and does not in any way confer on her the status of agunah ! Quite the contrary, as stated in the Shulchan Aruch and other sources, a GET should never be performed unless and until all issues between the parties have been resolved according to Torah law.

Feminist rabbis and organizations have made the alleged agunah crisis into a political football used to rally their misguided followers to a feminist agenda contrary to authentic Judaism, and contrary to the interests of the Jewish family. In many cases the husbands of the alleged agunot are decent Jewish men under no halachic obligation to divorce their wives, and they have perfectly valid reasons for objecting to the destruction of their families by divorce. In other cases the feminists are promoting the cause of various women who have violated halacha, usually by suing their husbands in civil courts in violation of halacha. The feminist groups have thus implemented the Jewish version of the “politics of victimization” by defining all women involved in a divorce situation as innocent victims of male injustice. The cause of the small numbers of true “agunos” (according to halacha) has been greatly weakened by the actions of the feminists allegedly assisting them.

The only sure solution to the divorce problems and alleged agunah problems in the Jewish community is a return to Torah law and a rejection of feminism and scapegoating of innocent men. Will the pro-feminist rabbis and agunah sympathizers have the intellectual honesty and courage to recognize the error of their ways?