We at JOFA are deeply disappointed by the recent comments of Israeli Knesset candidate Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, former head of the Jerusalem rabbinical court, who claims that there is no real problem of agunot, but merely a problem caused by "women's groups" that are trying to unfairly besmirch the Rabbinical Court with supposedly fabricated claims of gett refusal. These statements may serve Rabbi Dahan well in his bid for a Knesset seat, but they reflect a short-sighted and misogynistic view of women's real lives.
If only the stories of agunot were a figment of our imaginations... Unfortunately, the Jewish/Israeli divorce system remains inherently biased against women, who are by definition subject to male volition to freely exit marriage. Estimates of how many women remain chained in unwanted marriages in Israel range from far greater numbers than the low figures given by Rabbi Dahan. The statistics are foggy largely because of lack of organizational transparency in the rabbinical courts. Meanwhile, Rabbi Dahan's claim that more men suffer under the system than women -- and that the "real" problem is that women lie to manipulate the system – is a highly dishonorable attempt to cover the painful truth about gender and Jewish divorce. Men have options that women do not: Women's lives may be put on hold while men's are not. Where a wife is recalcitrant: the "heter 100 rabbanim" gives the husband an out. Even without theheter, some husbands date and remarry without benefit of a gett having terminated the current marriage. And when it is the husband who recalcitrant, there is no such relief for a wife. As an agunah, she can be dragged through the rabbinic courts for years in search of a gett. And the slightest transgressions by such a woman in creating a new social relationship and moving on with her life can result in the most serious negative consequences, including barred relationships and children excluded from the Jewish people as mamzerim. The rabbinic court system also favors male power and male ownership in divorce matters of custody and division of assets.
Rather than placing blame on women's groups -- which have worked tirelessly for decades in the spirit of Torah to alleviate human suffering and enable women to choose whom they want to be married to -- Rabbi Dahan would be better served by examining his court’s record and its complicity in the anguish of, many women who have walked with fear through its doors.