Chained women closer to divorce

Jews who live according to halachah, or Jewish law, require a get to dissolve their marriages. Only a man can give a get, and some withhold them to extort financial or custody settlements from their wives.

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

The new standards, particularly the assurance that a get be provided before other divorce arrangements are made, will "clear up a very large percentage of the agunah problem," said Mattie Klein, director of L'Maan B'nos Yisrael International, a Brooklyn organization for agunot.

Klein's organization worked closely with the rabbis who drafted the standards. It is not clear how many women in the United States are agunot, or who settle for unfavorable divorce agreements in order to extract a get, but some estimate the number is in the thousands.

While there are a number of established rabbinic courts in the United States, Jewish law says that any three Orthodox rabbis can convene a rabbinic court. Because these courts are not subject to oversight, many people have complained they are corrupt or favor husbands.

Rivka Haut, of the Brooklyn-based Get Organization, called the standards a "wonderful step forward."

"It's not a solution to the agunah problem, but it will help a lot," Haut said.

For more information about the standards, contact L'Ma'an B'nos Yisrael International at (718) 338-0833.