This particularly heartbreaking type of aginut occurs in any situation in which a man has lost the mental or physical capacity to express his will and deliver a get of his own accord. This can happen, for example, if a husband sustains debilitating brain injuries as a result of an accident or illness, falls into a permanent vegetative state or coma, or suffers from severe mental illness.
In such cases, a woman is unable to divorce her husband if she so desires, because only a man can release a woman from marriage and not vice versa. As such, a woman remains forever chained to a man who is effectively "not there", forbidden from moving past this tragedy and marrying again until the man dies. One such case infamously rocked the Israeli justice system this year as a young woman, who became known as the "Agunah from Safed", sought to move on with her life while her husband lay in a permanent vegetative state for the past decade following a motorcycle accident.
In recent years, many couples have turned to the Center for Women's Justice seeking solutions to preempt such tragedies. It is standard to purchase insurance for our homes, our health, and our lives in order to better protect ouselves and our loved ones in case of unexpected and tragic turns of events. Similarly, many couples sign prenuptial agreements before marriage. In the same vein, happily married couples are seeking ways to prevent aginut.
To address this, CWJ has drafted an innovative halakhic document, the "Pledge of Compassion and Dignity." This postnuptial agreement, signed by the husband, is a power of attorney appointing an agent to deliver a get to the wife in the event that he becomes medically or mentally unable to do so himself.
While innovative, this type of document is far from new. A similar solution was proposed and implemented at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then Chief Rabbi of the IDF. Out of concern for the wives of soldiers, Rabbi Goren drafted an order calling on every married soldier to sign such a power of attorney before going into battle. That way, if a soldier went missing or was captured in battle, the man's agent could write a get and deliver it to his wife in his stead.
CWJ's Pledge of Compassion and Dignity authorizes the rabbinic court to grant a get to a woman, if necessary, instead of her husband. This is not an actual get, nor is it a conditional get. It is an appointment of an agent by the husband to act on his behalf when he is incapacitated. It is not a measure against deliberate get recalcitrance.
This postnuptial agreement was drafted by CWJ under the tutelage, encouragement, and direction of respected Israeli halakhic authorities: Rabbi David Bigman, Rosh Yeshiva of Maale Gilboa; Rabbi Yoni Rosenzweig, former Rosh Yeshiva of Shvut Yisrael in Efrat, congregational rabbi in Beit Shemesh, and educator at Midreshet Lindenbaum; and Halakhic Expert Malka Puterkovsky of Ein Prat Yeshiva, Misdreshet Lindenbaum, Beit Midrash Migdal Oz. All endorse CWJ's postnup and encourage couples to sign one.
Does Israel's State Rabbinical Court endorse CWJ's Pledge of Compassion and Dignity? While they have yet to respond with express approval, we believe that when an actual tragic and severe case of medically-induced aginut comes before the court--and note, we are not speaking about cases of get refusal--the rabbibic court judges will adopt every halakhic measure available to them in order to release the woman. Absent docments such as our postnup, the halakhic possibilities of the court are very limited in cases of women chained to incapacitated husbands. Therefore, it is advisable to all couples to adopt whatever preemptive measures available that could help them in the future.
How do I sign up?
Signing the Pledge of Compassion and Dignity is very simple. Print the attached document linked below. The husband must sign it in front of two witnesses, who also sign it. The witnesses must be kosher in terms of halakhah--this means observant men who are not related to each other nor to either spouse. The document should be kept in a safe place at home, such as where the ketuba or other important documents are stored. And then you can forget about it.
Our goal is to ensure that every loving Jewish couple can conduct their lives with dignity and compassion, especially when tragedy strikes. Ultimately, CWJ aims to immunize all Jewish women from the chains of of aginut.
Sign it! And we pray that you will never need it.
* A file with the text of the Pledge of Compassion and Dignity is attached below, as well as a comprehensive halakhic explanation written by Rabbi Yoni Rosenzweig. Please contact us with any questions: 02-5664390