The staff of  Yad L’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline undertook 100 hours of fasting in the “Agunot Challenge” (אתגר_העגונות#), a grassroots campaign launched to protest the plight of Zvia Gordetsky, an aguna of 17 years. The 53-year-old Gordetsky, whose husband opted in 2000 to sit in jail rather than divorce her, launched a hunger strike outside the Israeli Knesset in May 2017, hoping to pressure parliamentarians into supporting a bill which would retroactively annul her marriage. When the bill was tabled, Gordetsky concluded her hunger strike. But a rotation of activists committed to continue her fast in solidarity with her and to raise awareness of the plight of so many thousands of others.

Pnina Omer, Director of Yad L’isha: “Yad L’isha aids about 800 women annually; about 650 women receive free legal counseling and 150 clients are receiving representation at any given time. I fasted in solidarity with these women and the thousands of other women who are abandoned or being denied a divorce, who are fervently awaiting their release from their husbands’ captivity.”

Advocate and Attorney Dina Raichik: “For over a decade I have been representing agunot from all over Israel and the world. I believe that fasting is an appropriate and significant way to identify with the restrictions that are placed on agunot. Today, I fasted as a mark of solidarity with their just struggle and to strive for a day when every woman has the power to shape the course of her own life.”

Shirel Boaron, Administrative Director of Yad L’isha: “Every day I meet women who have become ‘chained to the ring’. Women whose pride has been trampled and whose freedom has been stolen from them by husbands who cynically abuse halakha in order to keep them in chains. I fasted in their honor, and in honor of our struggle for a just solution.”

Shira Tzachor, Manager of the Beersheva Branch: “I fasted in honor of women being denied a divorce, who continue to wait for their freedom. Every day I meet women from Ashkelon to Eilat, who experience pain and humiliation at being denied their independence. At the same time I see light and hope in the hundreds of women we are able to set free.”

Advocate and Attorney Osnat Sharon: “I have been working at Yad L’isha for 18 years. I took part in the ‘Agunot Challenge’ as an act of solidarity and active partnership in the struggle of agunot for their freedom. The Fast of Esther was established as Israel’s Aguna Day because the Scroll of Esther relates how the queen entreated the Jews to ‘pray for me’ … the fast becomes a symbol of a struggle which began then and continues to this day.” 

Advocate Devorah Brisk: “For 20 years I’ve been advising and representing agunot at Yad L’isha, fighting alongside them in their struggle for freedom. Words cannot express the pain and suffering of these women who are being held captive in marriage against their will. According to the sources (Lev. 23, 26), fasting causes ‘affliction of the soul.’ I fasted in solidarity with the affliction these women experience and in honor of their just efforts to write their life stories according to their own free will. It is the very least we can do for these women.” 

Advocate and Attorney Moriah Dayan: “For over a decade I have been representing agunot and fighting alongside them for their freedom. I fasted for all of the women who are held captive against their will in the chains of marriage. Women who are being denied the basic right of self-determination to which every human being should be entitled; women whose very lives are subject to the mercy of the men who were once their partners – and all this with the support of the state. I pray that the cries of these women will reach the ears of those who sit in judgement, and that they will speedily find salvation.”

Tirtza Karniel, Social Worker for the Jerusalem branch: “I am fasting in solidarity with all the women who, after years of suffering and abuse, have made the excruciating and bold decision to leave a toxic relationship. Rebuilding their lives is a long process fraught with obstacles and struggles which require tremendous strength; we provide them with individual counseling, support groups, coaching and empowerment programs as our advocates work toward their freedom in the courtroom.”

Idit Shechter File, Director of Special Projects: “I fasted in honor of all the women whose lives are ‘on hold’ while their husbands keep them tied to nonexistent marriages. Until I started working here I had no idea how multi-dimensional the problem of aginut is, and how much one must sometimes go through in order to attain the most basic right of all: freedom. If you were exposed to just one tenth of our clients’ stories, your heart would simply break. So many times we are asked, why only women? Can’t men also be refused a divorce? Well, yes, but the difference in Jewish law is huge; a man can continue his life, marry again, have more children without their being considered mamzerim. Women cannot do any of these things. In fact, the threat of not giving a woman her divorce until after she can no longer bear children is common. Only public awareness will bring a solution! We must do all we can to ensure that no woman is imprisoned for 17 years (!) even as her husband remarries and fathers children with other women.