The rabbinate claims only a small number of women are 'chained'

Agunah Day: For women in Israel, marriage is captivity

Dr. Susan Weiss, Esq., Executive Director of the Center for Women's Justice, writes a powerful article for 2019 International Agunah Day. In the spirit of the Book of Esther she challenges the common sense regarding agunot – Jewish women held, like Esther, in marital captivity.

A woman's chained handsA woman's chained hands



"The sad truth is that all of us women who marry in accordance with din torah Jewish law are in marital captivity. The common sense may be that Jewish marriage is an act of sanctification – kiddushin – but the legal reality is that the term kiddushin in the context of Jewish marriage means sequestering, or putting aside.

"Jewish marriage requires that our husband or ba’al (literally, master or owner in Hebrew) acquire us in a public legal kinyan (purchase) ceremony undertaken at the wedding. In that ceremony, our ba’al procures us before witnesses, obligates to provide us with our minimum needs in the ketubah, and then publically sets us aside for his exclusive sexual use through the act of sequestering, kiddushin. Since we are his possession and his sole, sequestered, sexual property, he, by Torah law, is the only one who can release us from that relationship of his own free will. To release us he must do so with a get, literally a writ of manumission.

"Most of us are held by our ba’al in a gilded cage of marital captivity, happy with our choice of masters/owners, oblivious to the legal structure that binds us to them. We are caught in the web of our cultural and family obligations, habits and traditions. Most of us will never have to test our master’s goodwill to release us from the legal bonds that bind us to him. Others of us are not so lucky. Our ba’al can hold us captive for years. Sometimes we can pay him for our freedom. Sometime he sets no price for manumission, and we remain in his captivity forever.

"In Israel, the state requires all Jewish women to marry into marital captivity; there is no civil marriage in Israel. To avoid marital captivity, some Israeli Jewish women are now choosing to marry in civil ceremonies outside of Israel. Others will choose to marry religiously outside of the state rabbinate, conditioning their Jewish marriages on their ability to essentially manumit themselves should their marriage fail. Still others are choosing to live in common-law unions with their partners, eschewing marriage with the imprimatur of the state or any religious authority."



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