The term agunah (pl. agunot) refers to those women whose husbands have refused, without legal justification, to grant them a final writ of divorce, called a get. Such women are still legally bound to their "recalcitrant husbands" by marriage and are, therefore, unable to remarry or have legitimate children within the bounds of Jewish law. In Israel, rabbinical courts have jurisdiction over matters of divorce and marriage among Jews.
Of the husbands of the 69 agunot, 25 are currently in Israel and 44 are abroad, most in either France or the United States, and others in countries such as India, China, Egypt, the Czech Republic and elsewhere. The total number of women whose husbands have refused to grant them a divorce, including those cases not yet defined as having agunah status, is 180. By the same token, another possibly surprising statistic revealed in the rabbinical court study shows that there are slightly more men whose wives have refused to grant them a divorce - 190, or about 20% of the unresolved cases.
The statistics appear in a a survey of unresolved divorce files published on Tuesday by the Rabbinical Courts Administration. The study looked at a representative sample of 346 such "open" cases currently before the rabbinical courts for more than two years, as of the end of 2006. There were a total of 942 unresolved divorce proceedings underway in the nation's rabbinical courts at the conclusion of the study, but another 13 such files were closed in the beginning of 2007.
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, Director of the Rabbinical Courts Administration, said, "There is no factual basis behind claims that there are thousands of women who have been refused a get in Israel. According to the statistics we presented, there are only 942 open files [of any kind], such that any other claim is the product of imagination."
In approximately 41 cases, the court has issued orders applying economic and other administrative sanctions to those men who have illegitimately refused to grant their wives a get. The sanctions available to the rabbinical court judges are such things as imprisonment and suspension of certain rights, including: travel outside of Israel; obtaining, holding or renewing an Israeli passport; receiving, holding or renewing an Israeli driver's license; being elected or holding public office; engaging in an occupation
There are slightly more men whose wives have refused to grant them a divorce.
or running a business that requires a license or permit; and opening or holding a bank account. The law also includes the possibility of holding an imprisoned recalcitrant husband in solitary confinement.
The Rabbinical Courts Administration study reports that dozens of arrest or detainment orders were issued against get-refusers in 2006, as were dozens of travel restrictions. The orders holding the refusing husband in the country were generally issued at the request of the aggrieved spouse.
Rabbi Ben-Dahan said that he prefers the solution determined according to Jewish law, even though it would not be acceptable under the current laws of the State of Israel. "From the perspective of Jewish law," he explained, "it was held that a husband who refuses to grant a get, and whom the court must force to do so, is to be whipped. According to the law in Israel, that ruling of Jewish law cannot be executed."