In the wake of the Rabbi Barry Freundel tragedy, The Jewish Week published several articles last week about the need for increasing women’s roles in Orthodox Judaism. To a large extent, the articles focused primarily on increasing women’s roles in connection with mikvah and conversion. I would add that women should also play a greater role in the way batei din (religious courts) deal with agunot (women unable to divorce). I suggest that a panel of agunot and former agunot be an official part of the process when a beit din is dealing with an agunah case.
More than a decade ago at an all-day conference on the agunah crisis, a prominent New York-area rabbi opened his remarks as follows: “I really can’t imagine what it would be like to have someone else controlling my life, denying me my freedom.” Exactly. In my three decades as an agunah activist, I have seen over and over again that rabbis don’t really “get it” when it comes to understanding how traumatic it is for an agunah when rabbis countenance the husband’s endless delaying tactics and try to “negotiate” the get (Jewish divorce) by suggesting to the agunah that she give in to her husband’s extortion demands with regard to monetary matters or custody/visitation arrangements. This rabbinic insensitivity would be ameliorated somewhat by having a panel of agunot participate in beit din operations.
Director, Agunah International