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Israeli Marriage Freedom Ranks With Iran, Saudi Arabia

Jewish divorce is back in the news

Adam Chandler
July 26, 2013

Earlier this month, Batya Ungar-Sargon wrote a scintillating longform piece for Tablet about the Get Detective, a private investigator who tracks down Jewish men who have fled their spouses without granting them a proper Jewish divorce. Here’s part of her explanation of the quandary for agunot or “chained” women:

Even if the woman is completely secular, the mere possession of a ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, and no get means no rabbi will allow her to remarry. In other words, every Israeli woman is a potential agunah—and every Jewish woman, too, should she enter an Orthodox Jewish marriage.

Sometimes the refusing husband, uninterested in setting his wife free, runs away from the Israeli courts—fleeing to the United States or Europe or elsewhere. Disappearing to a location where Jews are few and far between can be just as effective, for in order to grant aget, fully seven individuals must be present, in addition to the husband: three dayanim(judges, who are one step up more credentialed than rabbis), two witnesses, a sofer(scribe) who must write the get on the spot, and the agunah or her messenger. You can see how such a forum might be difficult to assemble.

You should read the whole thing. Today, the Los Angeles Times ran a stories illuminating the “trap” of Jewish divorce in Israel, noting that even women who’ve been in abusive marriages remain unable to get out. One organization puts marriage freedom in Israel on par with some notoriously repressive places:

Women’s rights advocates are pushing Israel’s coalition government, the first in decades that does not include ultra-Orthodox parties, to pass reforms. A report in April by the Israeli religious rights group Hiddush ranked Israel alongside Iran and Saudi Arabia in terms of marriage freedom.

“When it comes to matters of divorce, Israel is a theocracy,” said Batya Kahana-Dror, executive director of Mavoi Satum, a legal group devoted to helping women obtain divorces.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.