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Between the Lines

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The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada has entered into an open fight with the Rabbinical Assembly of America on the question of modifying the Jewish divorce law as it affects wives who have been deserted by their husbands.

The fight between the two rabbinical bodies, although taking place in America, will no doubt be carried beyond the American boundaries. It will be carried to Poland, to Rumania, to other countries where this problem is acute, and even to Palestine, the seat of rabbinical authorities of world recognition.


The Union of Orthodox Rabbis, which represents the orthodox Jewish element, contends that the decision of the Rabbinical Assembly is “contrary to the Jewish law.” Offering no other solution to the problem of the deserted wife, the Union simply threatens excommunication of all rabbis who officiate at the second marriage of a deserted wife who received her divorce under the modification introduced by the Rabbinical Assembly.

It is difficult to argue whether this modification is really “contrary to the Jewish Law,” as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis asserts. It stands to reason that the Rabbinical Assembly, comprising Conservative rabbis, would not deliberately wish to violate any of the basic Jewish laws. The question is whether nothing can really be done to alleviate the cruel position in which thousands of Jewish women today are situated in being unable to remarry because for years they have been ignorant of the whereabouts of their first husbands.


The problem of helping deserted wives to remarry and establish normal lives has long been a matter of correspondence between leading rabbis throughout the world. This problem is one of the most acute in Jewish life. Remaining unsolved, as it is now, it cripples the lives of women and children by forbidding the deserted wife to remarry until the husband reports himself and until he is willing to grant a divorce to his deserted wife.

It is for this reason that the decision of the Rabbinical Assembly was highly commendable. This decision provided that a Jewish religious divorce can automatically be granted to a woman who has not heard from her husband for a period of three years, and that an agreement to this effect should be signed between husband and wife at the time of their marriage. It was thought that such a decision would forever put an end to the cruel state of affairs for Jewish women in many countries.


The fight which the Union of Orthodox Rabbis has now started against this decision, at the same time offering no other solution to the problem of the Agunah — the deserted wife — will therefore not be met with as much sympathy as the decision of the Rabbinical Assembly. From the standpoint of humanity, the decision of the Rabbinical Assembly should not be combatted. With a proper measure of good will, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis can find a way to cooperate with the Rabbinical Assembly in this particular decision, even if indirectly it is at variance with ancient Jewish tradition.

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