Understanding the Agunah Crisis

What is an Agunah?

An agunah (pl: agunot) is a woman who is chained to a dead marriage due to her husband’s refusal or inability to issue her a get once the marriage is no longer functional or reconcilable. In Israel, such a woman can also be referred to as a mesurevet get - one who is a refused a get.

Why would someone withhold a Get?

At ORA, we have unfortunately come across hundreds of cases of get-refusal. From our experience, there are four main reasons why an individual would refuse to give a get:

  • To use the get as a tool to extort financial concessions. This might be a straightforward demand of $1 million dollars in exchange for a get, or the use of a get as leverage to arrive at a more agreeable financial settlement in the divorce proceedings.
  • To use the get as blackmail to extort concessions in child custody and visitation, regardless of what a civil or rabbinic court decides is in the best interest of the children.
  • To inflict pain and suffering on an estranged spouse out of spite.
  • To prevent an estranged spouse from moving on with her life and pursuing a new relationship with another individual.
Underlying all of these four reasons is control. Get-refusal at its core is about controlling the life of a former spouse after a marriage has ended.

Why is Get-refusal considered a form of domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of controlling behavior in a relationship, where one spouse tries to assert control over the other spouse. Domestic abuse can manifest itself in many forms, whether physical, emotional, economic, sexual, or psychological. After a marriage has fallen apart, the get is the last vestige of control a husband has over his wife.

Is it ever okay for a husband to refuse a Get?

Divorce can be a complicated and messy process, and there are often two sides to the story when it comes to issues of finances and child custody. However, there are not two sides in abuse -- abuse is never justified. Thus, it is never acceptable to refuse to issue a get once the marriage is irreconcilable. Either spouse is free to address their claims through an impartial third party, such as a beit din or civil court. However, one cannot reach a fair settlement with a gun pointed to their head or a get held over their head.

Can men be victims of Get-refusal?

In 98% of the cases we come across at ORA, women are the victims of get-refusal. However, on a few rare occasions, we have dealt with cases where a woman has refused to receive a get from her estranged husband. Use of the get as a tool for extortion, whether by a man or a woman, is abusive behavior which must not be tolerated. ORA advocates for the issuance of a get in an unconditional and timely fashion, and we will assist any individual, regardless of gender, who is a victim of get-abuse.

The Jewish Divorce Process

What is a Get?

A get is a bill of a Jewish divorce which terminates the marriage between a husband and wife. The get is a 12-line Aramaic document written by a sofer (specially trained scribe) on behalf of the husband which the husband places in the wife’s hands in order to effectuate the divorce process. Unlike the civil divorce process , where a court official has the power vested in him or her to declare a married couple divorced, Jewish law require the active participation of both husband and wife in the divorce process. According to Jewish law, a marriage can only be terminated once a husband willingly delivers a get to his wife, and the wife accepts the get of her own free will.

Why is it important to have a Get?

Without a get, a couple is still considered to be married according to Jewish law, even if they are civilly divorced or have been separated for years. Consequently, pursuing a new intimate relationship before a get has been given is forbidden by Jewish law for both the husband and wife. Should a woman produce children from such a relationship, they would be considered mamzerim (illegitimate) according to Jewish law and forbidden from marrying within the Jewish community.

How is ORA addressing the issue of Agunot

What to do after hours or in an emergency?

We are committed to responding to inquiries within 2 business days. However, in an emergency, please call 911. You can also call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by texting "START" to 88788.

What does ORA do to resolve cases of Get-refusal?

Together with a team of rabbis, attorneys, mediators, and mental health professionals, our dedicated caseworkers formulate an individualized action plan for each agunah case we take on. ORA works to open lines of communication and mediate disputes between all the parties involved, and provides guidance to men and women navigating the beit din system. Although ORA always works extensively to resolve each agunah case amicably, if necessary, we will apply social, communal, legal, and financial pressure against a recalcitrant spouse who refuses to issue or accept a get unconditionally.

Does ORA have Rabbinic supervision?

ORA operates under the halachic guidance of Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Kollel of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University. Additionally, we work closely with rabbonim throughout the world on individual agunah cases. To see a partial list of rabbis who support our work, click here.

Why can ORA rally against a recalcitrant husband? Isn't it forbidden to publicly embarrass a Jew?

We are mandated by the Torah not to embarrass a fellow Jew in public. However, in the case of an agunah, if a beit din or highly respected Rav has ruled that a husband must issue a get and he has failed to do so, we as a community have an obligation to pressure the husband into complying with their ruling and setting his wife free. Because publicly shaming an individual is a very serious task to undertake, ORA always first obtains rabbinic approval (either in the form of a seruv or psak from a chashuv Rav) before holding a public demonstration against a recalcitrant husband, to ensure that our actions are in accordance with the highest standard of Jewish law. Although publicly shaming someone is always uncomfortable, when an individual acts in a manner contrary to Jewish law and withholds a get from his wife, we are forced to take action as a community, even publicly shaming a recalcitrant husband if necessary, in order to help free an agunah.

But isn't rallying in public a Chillul Hashem?

On the contrary, it is a tremendous kiddush Hashem to show that Judaism does not tolerate get-refusal, and that we refuse to stand by idly while an agunah suffers at the hands of her husband. When an individual twists Jewish Law into an instrument with which he tortures his estranged wife, we are required as a community to publicly demonstrate that such abusive behavior is unacceptable and incompatible with Torah values. The Torah commands us to stand up for the “ger, yatom, v’almanah”—the most vulnerable members of our society – so to turn a blind eye to the suffering of an agunah, who depends on the support of her community to attain her freedom, could not be a greater desecration of G-d’s name.

I'm afraid my spouse will refuse to issue/receive a get, what should I do?

We are here to help! Please call our helpline at 1-844-673-5463 or email us at intake@getora.org to speak with us.

What can I do to help Agunot?

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with ORA's programs!