The agunah fight: learning from Rav Ovadia Yosef

I haven’t written about this topic so openly before. Maybe it’s too personal. Maybe it’s too sensitive.

Last week, the FBI arrested two Rabbis in USA for beating reculcitrant husbands, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who faught to free agunot, passed away. Nothing in this world is coincidence so I feel it necessary to write, to share, to help you just for a moment feel the agunah issue.

When a husband no longer operates within a basic moral code and within halacha (Jewish law) to grant his wife a Gett (Jewish divorce), he is allowed to be pressured into it so that she can move on and remarry. Yes, he is allowed to be physically pressured. He, by his own choice, puts himself outside society’s protection by taking away his wife’s freedom.

I’m not going to discuss the Jewish law of why this exists. I’m not a Rabbi. I’m not going to discuss the failure of civil law to save Jewish women from their abusive husbands. I’m not a law maker. I’m not going to discuss the US case. I don’t know those involved.

This is about feeling. Feeling chained, feeling abused, feeling alone and feeling hopeless. This is about the woman. The wife who no longer wants to be the wife but has no choice in it.

I hate the word crisis but this is what it is. It’s a crisis because the way laws are now there is no way out for these women. Not enough is being done in both the religious and civil society to solve the agunah problem. Both in helping women free themselves and in the longer term legal/halachic reforms. Rabbis and law makers worldwide need to join forces on this issue and creatively find and enforce solutions.

Rav Ovadia Yosef ztl was known for his enormous effort in freeing agunot after the Yom Kippur war. When all other Rabbis shied away from the issue, he faught it. He delved into each case and the depths of halacha to help each woman. He cared for each life that was being tied up, frozen, stolen. Unfortunately most Rabbis still shy away from action. They shy away from decisive measures. If only they knew the pain and confusion maybe they would act. Really it’s the difference between life and death. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef gave life.

For now I constantly pray that each woman is made free sooner than destined, now, not later. I pray that she fights loneliness with emuna. I pray that she finds tough people to support her and fight her fight. But ultimately that she is able to connect with Hashem. I know from experience how hard this is. The very situation that you feel He put you in, that you feel punished by, you have to connect with Him on. But I also know that Hashem is ultimately good and the solution really is within Him. True freedom is not within space and time. True freedom is outside of our intellect, our emotions and our bodies. It can only be reached through a closeness with Hashem. This is not about giving up. It’s not about stopping your fight on the ground. It’s something so much deeper. When there is nowhere to go, you go within your deepest self, your neshama. This spark of Hashem within you that is totally untouchable. It is totally free. Always.


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