Miami (November 1, 2015) – Targum Shlishi has always been an advocate of justice for agunot (“chained women” trapped by the religious laws governing Jewish divorce), and it is now supporting the International Beit Din, a new religious court geared toward addressing the injustice inherent in the system. This innovative new initiative is based in New York and spearheaded by Orthodox rabbis in the U.S., with support from many Israeli haredi colleagues. The court, led by Rabbi Simcha Krauss, was formed in June 2014 and began officiating cases shortly thereafter. It is an independent institution with no organizational affiliations.
According to Jewish law, a divorce is valid only when a get (divorce document) is voluntarily handed from husband to wife. When the husband refuses to grant his wife a get, he thereby withholds her freedom to remarry; she is left chained to her husband as a mesurevet get.
“These women have been in pain for too long,” Rabbi Krauss told The Jewish Week. “In many of these cases, their husbands have already moved on with their lives and gotten remarried, while they are still trapped.”
“The problem of Jewish divorce is a community-wide problem,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “It is an unjust system, and it has repercussions far beyond the women who are trapped in these situations—it implicates the Jewish community at large, because we have allowed this discrimination to continue. It ruins women’s lives, disrupts families, and alienates masses of Jews from their communities. Our current situation is the legacy of an earlier, patriarchal society and we must change it now.”
The International Beit Dein is distinguished from other rabbinic divorce courts in certain critical ways. In addition to its mission to apply halakhic solutions to the problem of get refusal, the court considers itself a teaching beit din that holds conferences and other outreach activities and makes its work completely transparent. It has also established several procedures designed to provide support throughout the process for the women seeking gets, among them being accompanied throughout the process by female health professionals such as psychologists and social workers.
Resolving the problem of Jewish divorce “will require a paradigm shift, and the International Beit Din, with its absolute fidelity to halakha and commitment to social justice, may be the appropriate institution to reach for this goal,” says Blu Greenberg, the founder of JOFA, who has played a significant role in the establishment of the International Beit Din. “It will be a multi-year process to achieve the long-term goal of ending iggun (the situation of being trapped in a marriage because of get refusal) and with it, get abuse. It will be an historic shift to zero tolerance of iggun when all batei will rise to the same level of performance of dignity and fairness to both parties in a divorce.”
Rabbi Krauss and the founders of the International Beit Din believe that there are solutions within existing Jewish law to resolve this problem. “Our job is to try to eradicate the scourge of agunot. We’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to be transparent,” Rabbi Krauss told the Canadian Jewish News. “I think there are good solutions. If everyone would work on the solutions we have now, we would have many fewer agunot.”
The establishment of the International Beit Din grew out of the Aguna Summit, held in June 2013 at NYU Law School and co-convened by Tikvah and JOFA. The purpose of the summit was to hold an open forum to explore the various systemic solutions to the problem of get abuse, acknowledging that despite forty years of activism, the problem has persisted. The decision to create a special beit din grew out of the summit. The court was established in the U.S. because the Chief Rabbinate would not permit the establishment of an independent beit din in Israel. Rabbi Krauss was onboard since the beginning. Previously he served as rabbi of congregations in St. Louis, Mo. and Hillcrest, N.Y., was on the St. Louis beit din, and he headed Religious Zionists of America before making aliyah to Israel in 2005; he has relocated to the U.S. to head the court.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation