Daily Israel Report

Four 'Chained' Women are Unshackled

Rabbis of the Israel Prison Service have succeeded in freeing four women from their "agunah" (chained) status in the past six months.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 7/11/2008, 1:01 PM

Rabbis of the Israel Prison Service have succeeded in freeing four women from their "agunah" (chained) status in the past six months.

The women in question were denied a Jewish divorce, known as a "get," from their estranged husbands for a number of years.  Without a "get," a woman is Biblically prohibited from remarrying, in many cases essentially placing her life on hold.  Government authorities have taken a stronger stand against such husbands of late, including imprisoning some of them.  Even this acute measure, however, does not always have the desired results.

Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Vizner, the Rabbi of the Israel Prison Service, spoke with Arutz-7's Hebrew newsmagazine about the recent successes in persuading four husbands to give a divorce.

"Our approach is to try to penetrate into their hearts," Rabbi Vizner said, "and to help them down from the tall tree they have climbed.  In the last case, for instance, we told the recalcitrant husband: 'If you were sentenced to prison for a crime you committed, that would be one thing. But since that is not the case, why not turn a new page and start your life anew?'"

"The idea is to neutralize the angers that the person has, to embrace him, and thus to persuade him," the rabbi said.

Referring to the most recent case, which was successfully finalized the very morning that Rabbi Vizner spoke to Arutz-7, the rabbi said, "He's a man in his 50's, the divorce proceedings began ten years ago, and he's been in jail for a number of months.  Rabbi Herzl Cohen, the rabbi of Maasiyahu Prison, spoke to him first and was actually able to persuade him to sign.  But the problem is that, like in other cases, when he arrived at the Rabbinical Court in handcuffs and wearing prison garb, he simply changed his mind and didn't want to give the get."

"What we did this time, therefore, was to set a court date this morning in Jerusalem. He was greeted happily by the Court Secretary, Rabbi Moshe Biton, and Judge Rabbi Chaim Yifrach.  Even then, at the last minute he nearly changed his mind again, but we remained with him until the afternoon, when he finally signed the get, and was freed from jail."

A new arrangement that could help is being pursued, in the form of a special room in the prison where rabbinical court representatives will be able to arrange a get. This will avoid the trip to the courtroom in which prisoners sometimes change their minds.

Rabbi Vizner said that the efforts to obtain a get are a long, arduous process: "We create a relationship with the husband.  For instance, in another case, we had a man who had been sentenced to life in prison, and his wife said she wanted a divorce - but he refused. We spoke with him, showed him that we were concerned for him, transferred him to the religious prisoners' wing, and talked to him again and again, looking for the key to his heart."

"The refusal to give a get often stems from pent-up angers and a desire to get revenge, and this has to be neutralized. We speak to him and ask him why he has reached this situation, and the like. If the person sees that someone cares about him, his heart opens."

Rabbi Vizner praised the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Rishon LeTzion Rabbi Shlomo Amar, for having introduced "a tougher approach towards husbands who refuse to give a divorce."

More Chained Men than Women
It is important to note that though chained women receive more attention than chained men - men whose wives refuse to accept a get - their numbers are actually smaller than the latter.  A survey released last year by the Chief Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem found that the number of women whose husbands had refused to grant them a divorce for more than two years was 180, while the men in a parallel situation numbered 190.