What is being done to address the problem of “agunot” and where can “agunot” get help?
Many people in the Jewish community are outraged over the problem of agunot, and many organizations are working to help improve their situation. The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, the International Council of Jewish Women ("ICJW"), and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance provide advocacy for agunot. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs is currently attempting to document all cases of women who are chained to dead marriages, and seeks to raise consciousness of the problem of agunot as a human rights issue. There are also battei din in the US that specifically deal with this issue. See the Rabbinic Council of America to find this kind of beit din.
ICJW spent two years planning a conference on the situation of agunot, in which rabbis and Jewish advocates from all streams of Judaism planned to participate to seek a solution. The conference, which was scheduled for early November 2006, was abruptly canceled four days before its starting date by Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, because of intense pressure from haredi (ultra right wing groups).
Until a solution has been achieved, you can take steps to raise awareness of the situation of agunot in your community and in your state. Be vocal in speaking out against any known mesarvei get in your community, support local boycotts and pickets, and consider hosting a forum at your synagogue to discuss the situation. If there are agunot in your community, open your home to them and ask how you can help them. Write to your senators and congressmen asking them to support legislation, like New York’s Get Law, to help the problems of agunot.
How many states have “get” legislation?
In 1983, New York State passed the Get Law: Domestic Relations Law §253, which states that prior to a the court granting a civil divorce, both parties to the divorce will take all steps possible to remove any barriers to remarriage that the other party might encounter. This effectively means that in the State of New York, before a civil divorce is finalized, a Jewish husband must grant his wife a get. If you live New York State, be sure to talk to your civil lawyer and your rabbi about how to ensure that your husband gives you a get.
In 2007, the Maryland State Senate failed to pass a similar law, Bill 533. No state other than New York currently has get legislation. There is, however, case law in the statutory annotations of many states; this means that in any state, a court may or may not order a husband to give a get, depending on the circumstances of the case. Get cases are sometimes argued under the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” For example, in one New Jersey divorce case, the court decided that forcing the husband to give a get fulfilled the secular purpose of completing the divorce; since no religious ritual was required in order to obtain the get, and since the get in no way impacted his ability to practice his religion, his First Amendment rights were not infringed by this requirement. Speak to your lawyer about such possibilities.
Shelters, organizations, and help for Jewish women
Agunah International (www.agunahinternational.com), phone: 212-249-4523. Agunah International has its own beit din which is extremely proactive in granting gitten to agunot. They also counsel agunot whose husbands are withholding gitten as a means of control, provide financial aid to agunot in need, and raise awareness about the plight of agunot in the community.
GET Assistance Project of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) (https://www.nylag.org/), tel: 212-750-0800 x613. NYLAG is a not-for-profit legal services agency in New York City. They provide free civil legal assistance to people who live with domestic violence and seek a divorce.
Jewish Divorce Assistance Center of Los Angeles (JDAC) - (323) 473-5222 - www.jdacla.org. JDAC provides individuals confronting the divorce process with a live resource center to help navigate the unique challenges of Jewish divorce, offering in-person emotional and logistical support, guidance through the beit din (Jewish Court) process, and informal mediation services. Additionally, JDAC offers referrals to social service agencies, legal services, and other professionals in the Los Angeles Area.
The International Council of Jewish Women (www.icjw.org) advocates for the rights of agunot. Visit their website for information about their programs.
The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (www.jcada.org), 877-88-JCADA. JCADA is based in the Washington, D.C. area, and helps local women who live with domestic violence. Among their many services, JCADA helps women find food and shelter, provides legal assistance and job training, and partners with the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) to provide counseling to victims of domestic violence.
The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (www.jofa.org), 1-888-550-JOFA. JOFA’s website offers a thorough guide to the process of getting a get, a glossary, and extensive reference material about Jewish law and the problems of agunot.
The Jewish Social Service Agency (www.jssa.org), 301-881-3700, provides counseling and other services to women in the Washington, D. C. area who live with domestic abuse.
Jewish Women International's National Alliance to End Domestic Violence, brings together the country's leading experts on issues of concern to all professionals working in the domestic violence field.
Kayama (www.kayama.org), 800-932-8589. Kayama is a not-for-profit organization that helps Jewish people in all states and in all countries to obtain gitten. There is no charge for their services.
The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (www.getora.org), 212-795-0791. ORA is a social service agency that works with agunot, rabbis, and battei din to expedite the process of getting a get.
Shalom Bayit (https://www.shalom-bayit.org/), 510-451-7233. Shalom Bayit is an organization of Jewish women in the San Francisco Bay Area working to end domestic violence. They provide support and advocacy to women who live with domestic violence, and can help observant Jewish women find safe shelter in which they can observe Shabbat, the laws of kashrut (dietary restrictions), etc.
Project Eden (www.brooklynda.org/project_eden/project_eden.htm) addresses issues for Jewish Orthodox victims of domestic violence in Brooklyn, NY. Project Eden provides grass-roots trainings to individuals who have close contact with women in the community and are often privy to family issues. This includes sheitel machers (wig stylists), mikvah (ritual bath) attendants, cosmetologists, as well as day care providers, rabbis, and kallah (bridal) teachers.