Even if there’s only one agunah in the entire world, no rabbi should be able to sleep at night, says Rabbi Yosef Carmel
Carmel, who is founder of the Israel-based Eretz Hemdah Institute For Advanced Jewish Studies, says that Jewish rabbinical leaders need to take responsibility to help agunot. These “chained women” are unable to remarry because their husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces, called gets.
No statistics track the number of agunah cases worldwide, but Carmel says that even a few are too many.
It’s widely believed that some recalcitrant men refuse to cooperate out of spite. Others attempt to use the get as leverage in financial or custody arrangements. Carmel says that Jewish leaders must work harder to prevent what he refers to as “crimes” from happening in their communities.
|Rabbi Yosef Carmel will speak locally about his plan to aid agunot, women whose husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces.|
To that end, Eretz Hemdah has come up with a solution that Carmel says will prevent women from becoming agunot. The rabbinic scholar, who is also a combat veteran of the Yom Kippur and (first) Lebanon wars, is embarking on an international speaking tour in an effort to explain the plan and urge communities to implement it.
Carmel will address the Bergen County Jewish community at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 25 at Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Ahavath Torah and the vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, praised Carmel for his initiative.
“We are tremendously supportive of Rav Carmel’s attempts to solve this problem,” said Goldin, noting that the RCA has also taken steps to eradicate the agunah problem through the creation of a prenuptial agreement. “I encourage such methods to be used and developed to lead to the solution of this problem,” he said.
The goal of the RCA prenuptial agreement, which young couples are encouraged to sign, he said, is to prevent problems should the marriage dissolve.
The RCA agreement calls for the husband to pay a sum of money to his wife for every day he doesn’t give her the get, said Goldin. The agreement, which is enforceable by the courts, “is an incentive to give a get.”
Carmel says his proposed solution works in tandem with the RCA prenuptial agreement. He said he hopes to separate financial issues from the granting of the get in order to prevent the Jewish divorce document from being used as a means of extortion. “This has solved many of the cases already,” Carmel said, adding that his plan has already been put into practice in Israel and has achieved success.
Although some courts have attempted to impose punitive measures on recalcitrant husbands, Carmel says it is impossible to summon people to the rabbinic courts in America because of the separation between church and state.
In Israel, the rabbinic courts do not always use their authority granted to them by the state to enforce the giving of the get, although rabbinic enforcement is permissible according to Jewish law, Carmel lamented. “The Knesset gave halachic tools to the rabbinic courts but many are not using it.”
His concept will be effective, he said, because it does not rely on courts alone, but on the prenuptial agreement.
While Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, religious leader of Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck and president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, said he was unaware of the specifics of Eretz Hemdah’s proposal, he noted that Carmel and Eretz Hemdah are both well respected in the Orthodox community and beyond.
He added, “I am, needless to say, very sensitive to the unfortunate plight of agunot, as are all rabbis, and would welcome any recommendations that accord with accepted halacha. Once I hear what Rabbi Carmel has to say, I will certainly evaluate his solution in conjunction with my local colleagues and with the rabbinic authorities of the RCA with whom we consult on these matters.”
It should come as no surprise that Eretz Hemdah has come up with a plan that prominent Jewish leaders may adopt or look to as a model for their own initiatives: Rabbis from around the world frequently turn to Eretz Hemdah for guidance on issues related to Jewish observance.
While the institute’s primary focus is higher education for rabbis, Eretz Hemdah has become a leading force in Torah education for the Jewish public. Through its website, www.eretzhemdah.org, Eretz Hemdah rabbis have answered more than 12,000 questions through its “ask the rabbi” feature.
Eretz Hemdah is the only religious Zionist educational institution for Torah studies that is geared towards students who have already received the first level smicha, or rabbinic ordination.
In additional to its educational institution, Eretz Hemdah operates a network of rabbinic courts.
Carmel founded Eretz Hemdah in 1987, with the blessing and input of his mentor, the late Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, a noted rosh yeshiva and supreme rabbinic court judge, to fill what he saw as a void in Israel: the training of highly respected religious Zionist rabbis to serve as rabbinic court judges and educators.
Students at Eretz Hemdah undergo a rigorous seven-year curriculum, which prepares them for certification as dayanim (rabbinic judges) and municipal rabbis and to serve as deans on college- and graduate-level yeshivot.