International Agunah Day

by Rabbi Daniel Rabin

February 25th is Taanit Esther (the Fast of Esther), a day which has been marked as International Agunah Day. Sadly the day is still required as the problem has not gone away. There has certainly been much positive work done to end the crisis and so many courageous people continue to advocate and work in this space.

Unchain My Heart here in Melbourne, and many other organizations across the world are fighting each day for this cause. Many incredible religious and lay leaders are also at the forefront of working to end this major issue and will continue to do so until it is no longer required.

Each year I reflect on the things that we as a community or as individuals can do. I have seen so many well written pieces and heard excellent talks on this topic which provide great insight and guidance. Take time to read article and watch talks on this issue.

There are a number of points that seem to be consistently expressed and ones which I think each of us need to contemplate on how we personally can possibly make a difference.

One very strong point is that if you’re in a position of leadership then you’ll have a greater responsibility and reach. You cannot stay quiet. If you aren’t in a position of leadership and are simply living your life and feel this issue is not relevant to you, you should think again. Each person’s advocacy, talking about the unethical behaviour of someone who refuses to give or receive a Gett and making it clear that this is abuse, can and will make a difference.

Certainly if you know someone who is either the perpetrator or victim, make sure you support the victim and let the perpetrator know that you will not tolerate such behaviours. We as a Jewish community cannot condone or allow this to be acceptable.

Yes, many will say divorce is complex and there are often many sides and facts of which people are unaware. Yet this should never be an excuse or utilized as a tool to keep someone Halachically married and chained to their spouse when the marriage is no longer functional or reconcilable (and either partner can decide when that is.) It should never be used as a bargaining tool!

I was listening to a talk the other day when the speaker said,” if someone thinks they’ll have better access to their children by withholding a Gett and using it as leverage they are very mistaken. They’d be better off giving the Gett and dealing respectfully and kindly with their former spouse and that will ensure a much better outcome!”

The bottom line is everyone needs to do something. Dayanim, Rabbis, organisations, legal professional, lay leaders and every individual, we all need to use our position, skill, authority and voice to be courageous, outspoken and uncompromising when it comes to bringing an end to this crisis.

In conclusion I read a powerful sentiment from Shoshana Keats-Jaskoll, where she said there should never be any cold cases! Everyone deserves their freedom and no one should be left chained when their partner can roam free.

Every agunah case is a tragedy, we must not sit idly by, but rather do what we can to prevent it from occurring. In doing so, we will have done a tremendous good for our community, and, perhaps one day, for someone in our own family!

Rabbi Daniel Rabin
(A well respected Melbourne community Rabbi)