Agunot advocate calls for day of prayer before holidays

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Her faith in prayer has led Klein — now director of a 1-year-old New York organization serving agunot — to call for the first worldwide day of prayer for agunot, scheduled for next Friday, before the start of Rosh Hashanah.

Jews who live according to halachah, or Jewish law, require a bill of divorce called a get to dissolve their marriages. Only a man can give a get, and many withhold them out of spite or in order to extort certain financial settlements from their wives.

Women denied gets are forbidden from remarrying or even dating. They are called agunot, which means "chained women." Many are trying to escape abusive relationships.

Long a problem in the Orthodox community, the plight of agunot has been discussed more openly in recent years, and organizations advocating on behalf of these women have proliferated. However, there is little consensus as to just what form that advocacy should take.

The worldwide prayer day — in which Klein hopes thousands of women say prayers and psalms for agunot — will be followed four days later by Agunah Get Day, in which estranged husbands are encouraged to grant their wives a bill of divorce.

The effort has the endorsement of most major Orthodox organizations in North America and Israel.

But other advocates for agunot say that prayer and even a get day will accomplish little if not backed by a willingness to reinterpret Jewish law or more forcefully deal with intransigent husbands.

Most agunot advocates urge strategies like prenuptial agreements and public condemnations of intransigent husbands.

Since 1996, two Orthodox rabbis in New York have generated controversy by annulling the marriages of agunot. However, virtually no Orthodox rabbi will officiate at marriages of women whose original nuptials were annulled by Rabbis Emanuel Rackman or Moshe Morgenstern.

Susan Aranoff, co-director of the Brooklyn-based Agunah Inc., is skeptical of the prayer effort, although she commended it for "getting people's attention." Her preferred strategy is advising women not to have Orthodox weddings.