JWire – The plight of trapped women

The plight of trapped women

March 16, 2022 by J-Wire Newsdesk

Marking Yom HaAguna, the international day highlighting the plight of “trapped women” commemorated annually on the Fast of Esther, the Yad La’isha Legal Aid Centre, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network, confirmed that they had released 49 women from unwanted marriages over the past year in Israel.

The largest, most comprehensive and most experienced aguna advocacy organization in the world, Yad La’isha’s all-women team of professional lawyers, rabbinical court advocates and social workers represent women whose husbands refuse to grant them a get (writ of divorce) and empower them to rebuild their lives. Without a get the woman is unable to remarry according to Jewish law.

Esty Sompo in a cage in the midrachov
On Yom HaAguna in 2018, Esty (right) shared her plight with passersby in a cage Yad La’isha set up in Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare; this year Esty is celebrating Yom HaAguna in freedom.

Looking back at last year’s awareness campaign in which posters featuring trapped women were plastered on the streets of Tel Aviv, Yad La’isha director Pnina Omer shares that seven out of eight of those cases have been closed in the past year.

Omer says that an average of four to five more agunot are added to the organization’s client roster every month.  As the cases that come to them often involve the most recalcitrant of husbands, many of the women recently freed have been stuck in this trapped status for extremely long periods of time, including several for more than ten years of ongoing efforts.

“The aguna problem, where women are locked in relationships against their will, is one of the saddest and most painful phenomena in halachic Jewish society today.” explains Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Ha Yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “It is our responsibility to do everything in our power to assist them until a comprehensive and widely accepted halakhic solution can be embraced that puts this behind us. We are committed to working on all relevant fronts to achieve that goal, but until that time the work of Yad La’isha will remain indispensable for so many women and families.”

Esty, one of the women who was granted her get in recent months said, “The truth is there were many moments where I never really believed I would see this day.  I’m always amazed by just how much has changed since I held that document in my hand. From that very second I have found myself on a personal voyage to rediscover who I am as a woman and it’s been truly emotional and I am so thankful to all who have made this possible.”

Much of the work done by Yad La’isha involves extensive and creative legal efforts, which on many occasions spans beyond Israel’s borders and in partnership with local law and judicial authorities in jurisdictions where the husband fled in order to elude Israeli laws.  In other cases, the husband can go missing for months or even years and private investigators are recruited by the organization so that they can finally face justice.  In some of the most extreme cases, Yad La’isha has succeeded in petitioning the rabbinic judges to impose financial or other sanctions on individuals who continue to refuse to free their wives even in cases where they sit behind bars for get-refusal or other offences.

“Perhaps the most incredible thing about working with agunot is the extent of pain and evil these men are willing to impose on women who they had once claimed to love,” explains Omer.  “But our promise is that as stubborn as these men might be in hurting their wives, we will be equally if not more committed to doing whatever needs to be done secure their freedom.”

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