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If You’re An Agunah, Breaking Up Is Especially Hard To Do

I know a guy who used to go around with his friends and beat up guys who wouldn’t give their wives a get. A get is the Jewish document that a man must give a woman in order for their divorce to be final. Without a get a woman can’t get remarried, she can’t just say, “We’re divorced,” and have that be the end of it, and a civil divorce doesn’t count, either. Women who are being held in a marriage they don’t want to be in are called Agunot (singular: agunah).

Being an agunah really sucks, and many communities recognize how unfair it is, which is why there are bands of young guys whose job it is to beat up the offending men. I always thought that was pretty much the end of it, but it turns out it’s a lot more complicated. In Israel, since 1973 there’s been a law that says that a couple can’t divide up their assets equally until after their get has been processed. As a result, lots of women are blackmailed by their husbands into giving up their financial rights to shared property so that they can get a get.

This Sunday a bill is being presented to the Israeli parliament that would change things so that property would be evenly distributed in the absence of a get if proceedings took longer than nine months, or earlier if domestic violence is an issue. This is really good news (for more about the law check out this article from Jpost), but it makes me think about one of my least favorite topics: Divorce. I am deathly afraid of divorce, to the point that I sometimes think I just never want to get married because I’d be too scared we might get divorced. I’ve participated in and witnessed plenty of nasty break-ups before, and I can’t even imagine how much worse it would be if you add lawyers, money, and kids to the equation. And a Jewish divorce just seems even more unpleasant than the regular variety. And of course I don’t like the idea of a man having to grant me a divorce, like it’s so magnanimous of him to say that we don’t get along. Yuck. All of this made me extra happy to see that there are so many great resources for agunot. Check out this site, run by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which has everything from a prayer for agunot, to a Guide to a Jewish Divorce and the Beit Din System. The nice thing about being Jewish is that even though Judaism is chock full of things that piss me off, there’s always some group trying to negotiate between halacha and my position. As they used to say in my Orthodox high school, baruch hashem.

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