By Rachel Levmore, Rabbinical Court Advocate & Coordinator of the Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel and the Jewish Agency
In the past decade, women who are sensitive to the ultimate form of spousal abuse in Jewish families, established a new "holiday". Each year, the day of Ta'anit Esther, The Fast of Esther, in the Jewish calendar, now also marks International Agunah Day. This year this special day falls on Thursday, February, 25, 2010.
International Agunah Day marks the terribly unfortunate persistence of a uniquely Jewish problem within the wide realm of spousal abuse—the refusal of a husband to grant his wife a Jewish divorce, a get. All women who marry in accordance with Jewish law, when coming to divorce, are in need of a get in order to be freed of the husband in the eyes of Jewish law. Many men today who are approached by their wives requesting their presence for the delivery of the get in the local Rabbinical Court (this aside from the civil divorce) simply refuse to do so or resort to naming an exorbitant price for their cooperation. A woman in the position of being unable to free herself from a failed marriage via a get, is an agunah.
Although this is a particular problem for Orthodox women (that is outside of the State of Israel where it applies to all Jewish women in need of a divorce), it is not a "small" problem. The phenomenon of get-refusal is not contained within a specific locale. I myself, as a Rabbinical Court Advocate who specializes in resolving agunah cases, have tracked down absconding husbands around the globe in Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, France, Iran, Russia, Thailand, and in many of the fifty states of the USA! This indeed is a problem of international proportions — hence International Agunah Day.
Several Jewish organizations, committed to bringing about positive change in Jewish society within the framework of Jewish law, are calling for all couples who marry within these strictures to sign a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal. Of major importance is the deepening of the world Jewish public's comprehension of the problem. To that end, education is carried on via the written word—in the press and on the internet.
More information can be found at the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel website, ww.youngisraelrabbis.org.il.