Tag Archives: Conservative

Blame Rabbis For Agunot, But For The Right Reasons

The following essay is derived from two recent classes/podcasts Understanding the Agunah Problem and Solutions to the Agunah Problem. These classes include several of the primary sources referenced below

Introduction

The protracted divorce battle between Aharon Friedman and Tamar Epstein is the most publicized case of agunah in recent memory. An aggressive campaign led by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) capitalized on Mr. Friedman’s relatively prominent status as a congressional aide for David Camp. The efforts of numerous online and personal protests eventually led to mainstream media coverage from outlets such as Fox News, The New York Times and Politico which called national attention to Mr. Friedman’s refusal to grant his wife a halakhic divorce. As with virtually all cases of agunah, the recalcitrant party is vilified with public condemnations and communal pressure to acquiesce.1 When the specific goal is obtaining the immediate divorce, it is a relatively simple matter to identify the party responsible for obstructing the process and to protest accordingly. Others, however, find fault with the halakhic system, and in a desire to change the status quo identify other sources of blame.

In a recent Forward blog post titled “On Agunah Issue, Pressure Rabbis, Not Rep” Dvora Myers argues that the plight of agunot is not only the fault of a recalcitrant husband, but of the Rabbis for creating the regulations in the first place.

However, if withholding a get constitutes abuse, if the husband is indeed brandishing a psychological weapon and threatening his wife with it, then the question that should be asked: How did the gun get into his hand?

The answer is clear: It was put there by Jewish law, the rabbis who formulated it, and the rabbis who refuse to amend it.

Myers’ understanding of Jewish law is informed by Blu Greenberg’s famous dictum, “where there’s a rabbinic will, there’s a halakhic way,” thus placing the burden of agunot squarely with the Rabbis. Ultimately Myers concludes,

If maintaining a nearly thousand-year-old ruling is more important than offering women equality within the religion, I would at least like to see one of these rabbis condemning Friedman admit as much. It would be refreshingly honest to hear one of them say something like, “When faced with the choice of preserving tradition and promoting justice and equality that would give women the freedom to divorce, we choose the former.”

Most Orthodox Jews would agree that adhering to a thousand year old ruling is in fact more important than fulfilling the prevailing ethic of the day. This is due to a fundamentally different approach to Jewish law, one which assumes that halakhah is ultimately a representation of Divine Will. In this case it would be strict adherence to the biblical laws of divorce in Deut. 24:1-1 and the capital offense for adultery in Lev. 20:10. It is important to consider that this approach to halakhah is shared by the agunot themselves, who while having the free will to ignore Jewish law and remarry as they wish, are committed first and foremost to keeping halakhah despite the immense challenges it presents.2 Thus, when a Rabbi adheres to Jewish law, even if it is unpopular, inconvinient, or even difficult for him to do so, he is not being an obstinate misogynist, but rather fulfilling his duty as a Rabbi.

But while it is misguided to blame Rabbis for following halakhah, it is completely legitimate to hold Rabbis accountable to the very halakhah which they espouse. Unfortunately, the Orthodox Rabbinate has not always lived up to their own ideals even when the lives agunot were at stake.
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  1. While the majority of agunot are women whose husbands refuse to give their wife a get, it is not impossible for a woman to be obstinate in agreeing to be divorced. Rarely does the husband in these cases elicit the same sympathy as a woman who is an agunah who is only “chained” due to the inherent inequality in the halakhot of divorce which require the husband to willingly issue the divorce while the wife’s consent is not needed, nor can she initiate the divorce (M. Yevamot 14:1).
  2. I do not wish to categorize agunot as martyrs to a cause, but to note the religious commitment required for one to choose to remain an agunah is rarely acknowledged let alone supported.
Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Judaism, Random Acts of Scholarship. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , .

Ep. 63 Current Jewish Questions 10 – Solutions to the Agunah Problem

In this mega-podcast, Rabbi Yuter surveys some of contemporary solutions to the Agunah problem and discusses their merits, limitations, and flaws in light of Jewish law, history, and social politics.

Current Jewish Questions 10 – Solutions to the Agunah Problem Sources (PDF)

Current Jewish Questions 10 – Solutions to the Agunah Problem

Posted in Current Jewish Questions, Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Episode 38 – Politics of Exclusion: Preserving Gender Roles Part 1 – Mechitzah

Rabbi Yuter’s Politics of Exclusion series shifts focus to on Orthodox Judaism’s ethos of preserving traditional gender roles, beginning with the topic of mechitzah vs. separate seating in the synagogue.

Preserving Gender Roles 1 – Mechitzah Sources (PDF)

Preserving Gender Roles 1 – Mechitzah

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Episode 33 – Politics of Exclusion: R. Moshe Feinstein on Conservative Conversions

Rabbi Yuter’s Politics of Exclusion series continues with a discussion of R. Moshe Feinstein’s opinions related to the conversions of Conservative Jews.

R. Moshe Feinstein vs. Conservative Conversions Sources (PDF)

Politics of Exclusion – R. Moshe on Conservative Conversions

Posted in Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Podcasts, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , .

Episode 28 – Politics of Exclusion: R. Moshe Feinstein vs. Conservative and Reform Part 1

Rabbi Yuter’s Politics of Exclusion Class continues with an examination of R. Moshe Feinstein’s responsa / teshuvot regarding Conservative and Reform Judaism.

Politics of Exclusion – R. Moshe Feinstein vs. Conservative and Reform Part 1 Sources (PDF)

Politics of Exclusion – R. Moshe Feinstein vs. Conservative and Reform Part 1

Posted in Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Lectures, Podcasts, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , .

Episode 26 – Politics of Exclusion: The Birth of Conservative Judaism

Based on the scholarship of noted historians, Rabbi Josh Yuter offers a unique narrative for the origins of Conservative Judaism.

Birth of Conservative Judaism Sources (PDF)

Politics of Exclusion – Birth of Conservative Judaism

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Lectures, Podcasts, Politics of Exclusion in Judaism. Tagged with , , , .

Conservative Judaism and Homosexuality: Understanding the New Debate

A few weeks ago I received the relieving news that my master’s thesis from the University of Chicago finally passed after several years and several attempts. The approved version was actually a draft and needed some degree of editing for typos, grammar, and a few structural changes. After mulling it over for a while and getting some positive feedback I’ve decided to post the thesis here with a few explanations.

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Posted in Articles, Papers, and Publications, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , , , , , .