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The Fast of Esther has been designated International Agunah Day. This year six Jewish women’s organisations joined forces in Melbourne to acknowledge this scourge on the Jewish people. Although exact statistics of Agunot in Australia is not known, one chained woman is too many.
NCJWA has always been concerned with these issues – in 1929, at its first ever NCJW Conference, we pledged to advocate for Agunot and to put pressure on the Rabbis to find a solution.
Issues facing modern day Agunot generally differ from those of earlier times. In the past women generally became Agunot as a result of men disappearing in war without witnesses. Today, recalcitrant husbands are alive but refuse to provide the Gett to women.
According to Halacha, men must give (initiate) the Gett and women receive it. There are a few instances of women refusing to receive but the overwhelming majority are women, left in this state of limbo. The consequences include the inability to remarry without a Gett the risk of subsequent children becoming Mamzerim for ten generations.
The primary search is for a halachic solution to the problem of Agunot. However, there have also been attempts to alleviate the situation via civil law. To date the most successful solution has been through prenuptial agreements, whereby a couple undertake to grant a Gett should the marriage fail. Most recently, the Magistrates Court of Victoria has held that failing to provide a Gett is an example of overt exploitation and unconscionable control that constituted a form of family violence.
At the International Agunah Day Event in Melbourne it was suggested that the Bet Din take responsibility to ensure that social sanctions against recalcitrant husbands are enforced throughout the community. Further the need for increased transparency of the process of obtaining a Gett was recognised. It was suggested that the Bet Din play an educative role in providing information about the process of divorce to engaged couples and the expectations around how one should conduct themselves in the event of a failed marriage, as well as providing support throughout the process.