The cage was decorated with living room furniture meant to invoke a sense of home, and the visitors who stepped inside were asked to imagine the constricted world of an aguna.
by Stephanie Wasserman | July 16, 2019
People passing through Haifa’s Paris Square this week were surprised to see a huge cage positioned in the center of the plaza, accompanied by a sign inviting them to enter inside of it. The unconventional installation was placed by Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, a division of the Ohr Torah Stone network. The cage’s interior was decorated with armchairs and a sofa, evoking the feeling of a living room, and the public was invited to step inside for just three minutes in order to imagine the world of an aguna – a woman locked into marriage by a husband who has disappeared or who refuses to divorce her.
The purpose of the installation was to raise public awareness to the plight of agunot who live seemingly everyday lives, yet are not truly independent or free. The reason for its placement in Haifa was to share with locals the news that Yad La’isha has now opened a new branch to serve trapped Israeli women throughout northern Israel.
The northern branch joins three existing branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beersheva, through which women rabbinical court advocates, lawyers and social workers represent an average of 150 agunot per year in the rabbinical courts and fight for their freedom and rehabilitation, while also offering free legal assistance to another approximately 700 women who are in the process of divorce. During the past two months, Yad La’isha freed five longtime agunot from northern Israel from their husbands’ chains.
The northern branch will be directed by Yad La’isha rabbinical court advocate and civil attorney Tehilla Cohen, who explains its importance: “I wish every woman a happy marital life. But unfortunately, sometimes marriages are not happy, and then the situation can arise where a stubborn husband decides to torture his wife and abuse her, not necessarily physically, but mentally, by refusing to grant her the divorce needed by Jewish law and thereby keeping her trapped in a prison cell, unable to leave freely and begin a new life. Our job is to do everything in our power to help these women and assist them in receiving their coveted divorce, as quickly as possible.”
A. (name withheld for privacy), who has been denied a divorce for over three years, was present at the installation in Haifa. “For the past two years I’ve been busy raising my children alone, working round the clock in the absence of child support, and attempting to attain full custody. I haven’t had time to think about myself, my own life. I didn’t share my story, but now the time has come. I could have chosen to sink, but I chose to stand firm and continue living. If there is even the slightest chance that my choice to speak now will provide strength to other women going through the same cycle to stand up and fight for their freedom, then I will have succeeded.”
Pnina Omer, director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline: “Entering the cage provides the visitor with the tiniest glimpse into the captivity experienced by agunot, and expresses the distress and cries of women who have been inside the cage for years on end. We have a public responsibility to release agunot from their cages and not to leave them alone in their battle. Unfortunately, the numbers are large, and the phenomenon is widespread. Today, agunot from northern Israel also have somewhere to turn.”