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Thursday, December 12, 2013 

A new court to help "agunot"

There may be just the aid women stuck in religious divorce proceedings need:
In what appears to be a major breakthrough in the long, tortuous effort to solve the problem of agunot, or "chained wives," an international religious court is in formation, headed by a highly respected Orthodox rabbi, with the goal of freeing women trapped in broken marriages.

Blu Greenberg, a longtime activist on this issue and founder of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, announced at the group’s international conference this week that Rabbi Simcha Krauss, former rabbi of the Young Israel of Hillcrest and now living in Israel, has agreed to serve as the head of an independent rabbinic court in formation seeking “systemic halachic solutions” to the problem.

A major figure in centrist Orthodoxy who was president of the Religious Zionists of America, Rabbi Krauss made aliyah in 2005 and is affiliated with Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem. He is well respected for his Torah knowledge and integrity by a wide swath of the Orthodox community.

But the key to the new court’s success may well rest on one of the two leading Israeli rabbis associated with the haredi community who have given their imprimatur to Rabbi Krauss. Most significant is Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, a rosh yeshiva, posek, or religious decisor, and chief justice of the rabbinical high court in Jerusalem.

The other is She’ar Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa and president of its rabbinic courts. A third prominent Israeli rosh yeshiva has also signaled his support for Rabbi Krauss but prefers to remain anonymous at this time.

Highly respected by all segments of the Orthodox community, Rabbi Goldberg was the first to sign on to the Rabbinical Council of America’s pre-nuptial agreement program, to prevent agunah cases, and helped give it credibility.

“As long as Rav Zalman Nechemiah is on board with Rabbi Krauss,” the new venture is “untouchable,” noted an expert on the issue. But he added that haredi elements opposed to the new bet din could put strong pressure on Rabbi Goldberg to retract his support.

“Most of all,” the source said, “it must be truly independent.”
They shouldn't have to please any Haredi movements who oppose doing a good deed for the sake of a woman in distress. The Satmar community is one that's bound to oppose this, based on some of the info I found earlier, and there's probably more.
The problem of agunot is a major one in the Orthodox community for two key reasons. It leaves the woman in religious limbo, unable to remarry and have a child (who would be considered a mamzer, or illegitimate). And it represents a moral and theological challenge to the notion that halacha is based on ethics and human rights.
This is something that must be changed too - specifically, the condemnation of illegitimate children, acting as though the sins of the mother fall upon the child. There's some stupid things that took place in ancient times that the Jewish people outlawed, like stoning adulterers, and they did the right thing to change that. If that can be altered, I see no reason why this can't be too. Just because, unlike stoning, this doesn't involve death, that's no reason to have left it in place all these many centuries.

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