The Agunah Dilemma, #4

Last week we discussed the desire for “a systemic solution” for the agunah issue.  One challenge to implementing any such single solution is that the issue manifests differently in Israel and the United States, among other places.


Israel has no civil divorce.  All marriages between two Jews must be ended by a get before either partner can remarry.

As a result, many Israelis without deep halakhic loyalty are subject to a system that binds them against their will.

Israeli agunot therefore may be women who would happily remarry without a get if they had a choice.  They may happily accept any solution which frees them, regardless of their own evaluation of the halakhic or intellectual integrity of that solution.

For example, they would be effectively freed by a governmental decision to permit civil divorce even for parties who were married via valid kiddushin.  They would also almost certainly be effectively freed by a governmental decision to recognize the marriage-ending declarations and rituals of nonOrthodox Judaism, or to recognize divorces issued by a highly idiosyncratic Orthodox beit din.

On the other hand – most Israeli agunot would not be freed by any method that the government refused to recognize, no matter how solidly grounded that method is in Halakhah, or how broad a consensus of universally respected Orthodox poskim approved it.  As of now, the Israeli government allows the Chief Rabbinate to set its Jewish divorce standards.


United States

The US has secular divorce, and does not grant religious divorce any legal force.  American Jewish women have the legal option to remarry without an Orthodox-recognized get if they so choose, either under secular or under nonOrthodox auspices.

A woman who self-identifies as an agunah in America is consciously rejecting these options. 

She may reject them because they conflict with her personal commitments or ideology; or,

she may reject them because they conflict with the commitments or ideology of the community or communities she identifies with and would seek a remarriage partner in.

American agunot therefore will not accept a solution that fails to satisfy their own and or their communities’ standards of intellectual integrity and/or halakhic integrity and/or halakhic authority.   

If they were willing to accept such solutions, they would already be free.

On the other hand – American agunot and/or their communities have the autonomy to choose their own halakhic authorities and to evaluate halakhic arguments on their own.  Therefore a solution for American agunot does not in principle require either rabbinic consensus or the approval of a particular rabbi or set of rabbis.

Note: Some Israeli women, and therefore likely some Israeli agunot, are like Americans in that they autonomously accept the  authority of halakhah, or live in communities that do, and so can only accept solutions that meet their own religious standards.

Note: Some Israeli women would be willing to remarry illegally so long as they have a valid halakhic divorce.

Note:  Canada is fundamentally the same as the US with regard to this section, but with secular legal differences we will discuss elsewhere.  I do not have enough knowledge of other countries to discuss them individually

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper 

Dean, The Center for Modern Torah Leadership



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One response to “The Agunah Dilemma, #4

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