Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Back to Opinion

Coma Case Could Mean Leap Forward for Agunot

A woman gestures at a Jerusalem demonstration to help agunot / Haaretz

We’re familiar with the stories of recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give their wives a get, a religious writ of divorce, effectively preventing them from remarrying. But less discussed is the heart-wrenching experience of women whose husbands are alive, but unable to interact with them in any way.

The Israeli city of Safed is known for its religious conservatism, but it has just come up with a massive innovation in Jewish law. While a husband’s consent is generally needed to approve a divorce, the Safed Rabbinical Court has just made an exception.

A man who has been in a coma for seven years following a motorbike accident has just been divorced from his wife, a 34-year-old mother of one, Haaretz reports. She believed that he will never regain consciousness, and wanted the opportunity to remarry.

The court employed a complex principle in Jewish law that allows one person to take action on behalf of a second person if it will benefit the second person. This can apply, for example, in the case of acquiring possessions.

In the Safed case, granting a divorce was decided to be in the husband’s interest, because he’s unable to fulfill his duties towards his wife, as laid down by religious law, while on the other hand he has no benefit from staying married. In short, the court justified the divorce by saying that it actually solves the problem that the husband was married but absent from his marriage.

This is one of the boldest moves on record on the subject of agunot or “chained wives” — and one that inevitably brings criticism from some. There is the general criticism that it can be seen as violating the husband’s rights as he may regain consciousness. And there is the religious objection, which has been expressed by some influential rabbis, that the logic used to divorce the woman was too much of a stretch to Jewish legal principles.

The question now is whether this ruling will become accepted as a precedent-setter, and one that encourages further creativity in agunot cases, or whether it will cause a backlash and lead to bolstered conservatism on these matters.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.