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Jewish Divorce: The Agunah (Chained Woman)

Agunah literally translated as anchored is a halachic term referring to a woman who is chained to a marriage due to the disappearance of her husband or his unconfirmed demise.  In modern times the meaning has been broadened to include the woman who is unable to procure her freedom from a recalcitrant husband who refuses to grant a Get. 

In Jewish law, for the woman to be granted official freedom to remarry, certain requirements must be met. In the case of widowhood, the husband’s demise must be verifiable.  Assumption of death is not sufficient.  While in the case of divorce, it must be granted by the husband of his own free will. Absent these requirements a new marriage by the wife would be considered adulterous under Jewish law, and any children born of that marriage would be deemed “mamzerim” or illegitimate.

In the past the primary reason a woman was chained to her marriage, unable to remarry was the disappearance or unconfirmed demise of her husband.  In addition, if the husband became comatose or insane he could not actively give a Get deeming his wife an agunah.  Currently, though there are women that are agunot (plural of agunah) due to their husband missing in action or falling ill, the majority of the women chained to their marriage are those that are refused a Get.

Over the years the conservative movement has proposed a number of solutions to the Agunah problem.  None of the solutions have been accepted by the traditional orthodox rabbinate.  The remedies put forth by the Conservative rabbinate can be categorized into two groups: preventative solutions and curative solutions. 

Prior to marriage certain things can be done that will assure the granting of a Get should the husband refuse to give it.

Letter of Intent
As described above the Lieberman Clause to the Ketubah attempted to do just that. Since there is an issue with the secular courts in the U.S. of separation of church and state, the Conservative Beit Din tried to sidestep the issue by creating a “Letter of Intent.” This document that is signed by both husband and wife, and separate from the Ketubah, states that the couple met with a particular rabbi who explained what is written in Ketubah and its attached Lieberman Clause obligating them to appear before the beit din in case of divorce.  By signing this document, the couple acknowledge acceptance of both the Ketubah and the Lieberman Clause. However, this letter of intent is not legally binding in a secular court of law which may still view it as a violation of separation of church and state.

Tnai Kidushin
A conditional marriage: a clause that is separate from the Ketubah that is a basically a prenuptial agreement which places a condition on the marriage. The groom signs a statement declaring that should he fail to grant his wife a get after six month of the civil divorce the marriage would be considered invalid. The Conservative Beit Din then issues the wife a P’tur or certificate of release and she is free to remarry.

If none of the preventative solutions were done or if they failed, curative solutions were developed.

Hafkaat Kidushin
Hafkaat Kidushin refers to annulments of the marriage. Conservative Judaism holds that since the rabbis gave the approval for the marriage they can halachically rescind that approval.  The Conservative Beit Din will try to persuade the husband to give a get but failing that will issue an annulment for the following reasons as well as others:

 •  If the husband refuses to grant a Get after a civil divorce has been issued without a valid reason
 •  Inability to locate a husband who has fled from authorities or debt
 •  If the husband continues to physically abuse the wife even after a civil divorce
 •  Disappearance of a husband with no contact for many years, and no indication of his demise.
 •  If the husband utilizes blackmail in order to assure himself a more favorable financial settlement.

 •  Jewish Divorce: The Get (Gett) Text in Hebrew and English
 •  Resources and Information for Obtaining Jewish Divorce (Get)

 •  Jewish Divorce: Orthodox Perspective
    –  The Get Procedure: Obtaining a Jewish Divorce
    –  Marital Assets and Alimony
    –  Custody and Child Support
    –  Agunah Issues
    –  Getting a "Get."  The last resort. by Daniel Hadar

 •  Jewish Divorce: Conservative Perspective
    –  The Get Procedure: Obtaining a Jewish Divorce
    –  Marital Assets and Alimony
    –  Custody and Child Support
    –  Agunah Issues

 •  Jewish Divorce: Reform Perspective
    –  Is a Get Necessary: by Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser


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