Monday, February 28, 2011

Ta'anit Esther and International Agunah Day

Ta’anit Esther has been designated as International Agunah Day, a day when Jews all over the world will hopefully come to recognize the growing problem of get (Jewish divorce)-refusal within Jewish, and especially observant Jewish society.
With the holiday of Purim approaching, and before it Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther), I sat down to chat with Dr. Rachel Levmore, a well-known and respected Toenet Rabbanit (Rabbinical Court Advocate) and coordinator of the Agunah Prevention Project for the Council of Young Israel Rabbis and the Jewish Agency. Dr. Levmore not only counsels and represents agunot in Bet Din, she has authored Min’ee Einayich Medim’a, a sefer on the halachic issues involved in get refusal and the development of prenuptial agreements.
Dr. Levmore explained the relationship between Esther (who was married to King Achashverosh) and agunot (women whose husbands refuse to give them a get).
Dr. Levmore comment that Esther was locked into a marriage of which she wanted no part. Her affliction was indeed like those of agunot – living in fear and even living a double life so that her husband would not uncover “ammunition” that could give him further reasons not to grant a get. Ta’anit Esther and International Agunah Day are also connected in the way Esther brought salvation.
Esther knew she needed the unity of Am Yisrael for salvation. She called everyone to join her, empathize with her in order to reach the rescue of all those who are suffering.
Those who are fighting to aid agunot are calling out to Am Yisrael. Join us in unity.
When everyone will understand the deep problem of get refusal, then we can do away with this blight on Jewish society.
Dr. Levmore noted that Esther turned to the rabbanim after the Purim miracle, and asked them to write the story of Purim for generations to come, and include it as a holy book of the Tanach. “We similarly turn to the rabbis to develop halachic rulings that will insure that there will be no more victims of get refusal. The solution will come when the rabbanim agree on a proper solution and implement it.”
One preventative solution has already been mandated by the Rabbinical Council of America in the United States for every couple that marries under its auspices - a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get refusal. The agreement used in Israel is called the Heskem Lekavod Hadadi (the agreement for mutual respect). It is a halachic monetary agreement that exhibits respect from one spouse to the other (and both partners obligate themselves in the same manner). It cuts the possibility of bitter get refusal, because of the money involved in the agreement. Rachel said, “As we say in America, ‘money talks.’”
Dr. Levmore continued, “All couples should be signing this agreement automatically before they get married,” because of three reasons:
1) Tikkun olam (fixing the world) – we will correct a bad situation that exists in the dati (observant society).
2) Personal protection – no one is planning on getting divorce, but if someone signs the agreement, then if G-d forbid, he becomes part of the 30% who do get divorced, he minimizes his losses through the agreement.
3) By becoming involved, young people today have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take part in the historical development of a solution to a global problem that affects all of Orthodox society all over the world.
People must push rabbis to face the agunah problem head on, really relate to it, and come out with deeper halachic solutions.
The agreement can be found at .
Hear Dr. Rachel Levmore speak about the connection between Ta’anit Esther and International Agunah Day, as well as the solutions to get refusal:
On March 7, Dr. Levmore will be participating in a panel discussion at the OU Israel Center on the topic of Agunot, and a new documentary film titled Women Unchained.

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