In the run-up to International Agunah Day, the Tzohar organization announced that all of its rabbis will now require a couple to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, so as to prevent agunot (chained wives) and get (a Jewish divorce) refusal. At the same time, Beit Hillel, which was founded in 2012 to counter religious extremism and bridge the secular-religious divide, is planning on distributing new proposals on how to reduce the number of agunot in Israel. NIF grantee ICAR (The International Coalition for Agunah Rights) has been campaigning on this issue for the last ten years.
In response to these developments, Robyn Shames, the Executive Director of ICAR, said: “Rabbis are finally taking responsibility for this issue and are not leaving this only to the activists. However, there is still a need for a systemic solution, as prenuptials do not cover all of the problems, especially that of the classic aguna [whose husband has disappeared or is unable to give a get]. This is the first step in the right direction.”
ICAR, a coalition of 27 advocacy groups, has drafted 15 suggestions for new legislation on agunot. Representatives will be presenting them to the Knesset’s Committee on Women in May. One of the proposed laws would stop the “race of jurisdiction,” in which whomever gets to the court first with a divorce request acquires sole jurisdiction. Religious courts tend to favor the husband much more than secular courts, and many husbands file there as quickly as possible for that reason.
ICAR is also campaigning to open up the position of rabbinical court administrator, a position which does not have to be filled by an Orthodox rabbi, to women. Robyn Shames said: “We are very active in trying to get the best rabbinical court judges appointed. We strongly believe that if the right people will sit there, 85% if not more of these cases will be solved.”