Contemporary Issues in Jewish Divorce

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Religious solutions to the agunah problem vary across the Jewish movements. For traditional Jews who accept that the children of a woman who remarries without a get are mamzerim, any proposed solution must be accepted as halakhically valid across the Orthodox movement. If a particular solution is accepted in some quarters and not in others, then the children of remarriages will still have the status of "mamzer." A partial solution that has gained currency and halakhic approval in recent years is for a couple to sign a prenuptial marriage protection agreement. These agreements can help secure a woman's freedom to remarry in case of divorce. Another course of action is for a rabbinic court to annul a marriage if it finds that the husband had some "defect" that the wife did not know about when they married (such as mental illness) or that some aspect of the marriage ceremony was not "kosher" (such as the witnesses were not valid).

The Conservative movement has developed its own form of a prenuptial agreement (not accepted by many Orthodox rabbis) and has a broader understanding of annulment than the Orthodox movement, allowing rabbis, as arbiters of Jewish law, to grant annulments more freely.

The response of the Reform movement to the situation of the agunah was to dispense with the get altogether and accept civil divorce as fully dissolving a marriage. The Reconstructionist movement also accepts civil divorce if the husband will not grant a get. Its concern with egalitarianism is reflected in the three types of get it does offer: traditional, woman-initiated, and mutual.

In both the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, many divorcing couples are requesting some form of religious divorce to provide spiritual and psychological closure to a marriage. A religious divorce ceremony allows these couples to acknowledge the pain and loss of divorce in a meaningful way, and the movements are increasingly advising divorcing couples to pursue a get or other religious marker of the end of their marriage.

Beyond the mechanisms and rituals of the divorce itself, those who are divorced and the community-at-large are faced with questions regarding the relationship between newly single adults and their synagogues or other Jewish institutions. The Jewish emphasis on family can serve to alienate the divorced, and recently divorced people often look to their rabbis and synagogues for support that is sometimes lacking. As the divorce rate rises in the Jewish community, the problem becomes more acute.

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