A new independent rabbinical court to address the issue of agunot, so-called “chained women” whose husbands refuse to give them a religious writ of divorce, will be launched next year.
The announcement of the court, or beit din, was made Sunday at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conference in New York.
Rabbi Simcha Krauss of Jerusalem will head the court, which will have no institutional affiliation and begin operating in New York.
Krauss, a leading Modern Orthodox rabbi and widely respected scholar, told JTA that the court will utilize little-used, obscure resources in Jewish religious law to free agunot, including the excommunication from communal prayer of their husbands and Sephardic laws that allow for greater initiative from women in divorce cases. Krauss said he will leave “no door unopened” in his quest to address the plight of agunot. Eventually, Krauss said, he wants to open an affiliate court in Israel. He also is working on attaining approval from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which is necessary if the court’s judgments are to be upheld under Israeli law.
“The goal of this project is to humanize the beit din,” Krauss told JTA. “You can’t solve these situations with sleight of hand. But hopefully we can use the right methodology, so that even these situations get solved.”
Krauss acknowledged that the biggest challenge facing any avowedly independent religious court is mainstream acceptance, particularly within the haredi Orthodox communities.
“Nobody wants agunot,” he said. “So hopefully, if [haredim] see that we are solving these cases, maybe they will come to us. Or maybe they will follow.”