LONDON, Nov. 21 (JTA) The Orthodox Jewish establishment here is insensitive to the problem of Jewish women whose husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces, women’s advocates say.
The accusation follows a public forum devoted last week to the issue of agunot, as women in this predicament are called.
It’s an issue that is a contentious one in the United States and has gained increasing attention in Britain in the past few years.
Agunot Campaign co-founder Sandra Blackman said she was “very, very upset” that the Orthodox chief rabbi’s office declined to send a rabbinic authority to participate in the panel discussion.
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, the only rabbi on the Agunot Campaign’s four-member panel, said he was disappointed but not surprised that the chief rabbi had not sent a representative.
He said there was a “lack of sympathy” for agunot among the British Orthodox establishment.
And he suggested that sexism was involved.
“If the boot were on the other foot, if this were a problem that affected men, I think you would see a lot more effort to solve the problem,” he said.
He said the panel had compared Britain unfavorably with other Jewish centers.
“Most panelists felt that not enough is being done here as compared to Israel and America,” Rabbi Rosen said.
Spokesman Jeremy Newmark said that the head of the chief rabbi’s task force on agunot, Judy Nagler, was present at the meeting. Nagler did not sit on the panel.
Newmark added that Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, was unable to attend the event because of a previous commitment to attend a World Jewish Relief dinner. But Blackman said that the problem of agunot “is also about world Jewish relief, and he should have been there.”
Agunah campaigners and the chief rabbi’s office differ sharply on the scale of the problem in Britain.
Newmark said there were “fewer than 15 cases of agunot on the records of the London Beit Din,” or rabbinic court.
“Numerically, it’s a small problem, though it’s obviously a large problem for the people who are affected,” he said.
He said the Agunot Campaign was “hyping this up out of all proportion.”
Newmark suggested that the organizers of the forum, “Seeking Halachic Solutions to the Problems of Get and Agunah,” did not understand how halachah, or Jewish law, operates.
Any solution “has to apply on a global basis if it is to be halachic,” he said, adding that British Jews could not solve the problem.