Agunah & Get Refusal:
Prevention and Intervention
As an active Rabbinical Court Advocate since 1995, Rachel Levmore has specialized in cases of Iggun and Get -Refusal heard by the Israeli Rabbinical Courts. In January 2000 she became the first woman to join the "Agunot Unit" in the Directorate of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts. She is the Coordinator for Matters of Iggun and Get-Refusal, in a Council of Young Israel Rabbis project sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel. In that capacity she has helped hundreds of women attain their freedom from the untenable chains that bound them. Rachel resolves difficult cases of husband disappearance and of Get-Refusal in Israel and in the Diaspora. She is in close contact with Chief Rabbis, Rabbinical Courts and community Rabbis the world-over. Rachel was one of a team that developed a Prenuptial Agreement for the Prevention of Get-Refusal, which relates to problems peculiar to Israeli society, while still valid for world-wide application. This unusual agreement, which anchors modern day's philosophy of partnership and mutual respect in the halakha, is being signed and ratified in Israel today. Her extensive research in the subject of Prenuptial Agreements for the Prevention of Get-Refusal has been documented in her Master's thesis in the Talmud Department of Bar-Ilan University. Through her lectures and discussion groups held in Israel and abroad, she raises the awareness of the Jewish world regarding the subject of women's status and self-actualization in Judaism, specifically addressing the complexity of Jewish divorce today.
This project, coordinated by Ms. Rachel Levmore, provides assistance to all Jews who are in need of help in achieving a Jewish divorce, male or female, from every walk of life, from Israel and from abroad. The coordinator is a lone voice in the bewildering maze of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts, calling for and affecting the development of solutions to the problems of people in desperate straits. The coordinator is recognized by the Rabbinical Judges as someone who can assist them in achieving resolution of cases in an halachic manner, where they had been formerly stymied.
She is also trusted by the "establishment', which facilitates her involvement in the development and application of far-reaching solutions to the agunah problem. The "Prisoner Project" within the Directorate of the Israeli Rabbinical courts, which was built up and is maintained by this project, is continually reaping successes in convincing prisoners to free their wives.
This facet alone would not exist if not for this project. The general populace, as well, has recognized the efficacy of this project, with pleas for assistance reaching the Coordinator from women in every strata of Israeli society in Israel and aboard.
The influence of this project is felt by those concerned with alleviating the anguish of difficult divorces whether on a personal or institutional level, in Israel and aboard, while having resolved specific cases which were heretofore considered lost causes. In addition, it provides a model for the betterment of women's status, actively involving women in the judicial process including in the Orthodox stream.
A fascinating example of the unique contribution of this project appeared unobtrusively on the pages of the Jerusalem Post on June 18, 2004. In the brief news item, it was reported that the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man who had been found guilty of killing four women by setting fire to the where they were employed. He had originally received a sentence of life-imprisonment for that murder done out of religious fervor (!). The Supreme Court now ruled the man as mentally incompetent, not responsible for his actions. The man had believed that he was the Messiah, and that the Holy Spirit had ordered him to set the fire.
What the reporter was not aware of is that this same man was a recalcitrant husband who had been refusing to give his wife her Get, for the same reason-that he was the Messiah. This was one of the files that the Coordinator successfully resolved last year. At the time the husband had been incarcerated for a year, maintaining his refusal to give his wife a Get. After studying the case in depth and after several lengthy meetings with the wife, Rachel as Coordinator of Agunot, advised the wife and saw to it that the personal Rabbi of the husband became involved. A few days after that, and when the threat of the Rabbinical Court levying sanctions upon him in prison became immanent, the husband notified that he wanted to give the Get. The great success of this project is that this was done months before the ruling of the Supreme Court declaring him legally incompetent. A ruling of incompetency prevents the man from giving a Get according to the Halakha, since he has no understanding of his actions. If the man had held out until after the ruling of incompetency, his wife would have remained an aguna for as long as the husband continued to live. The intense work invested in the case brought about her freedom and the opportunity for her and her children to live a normal life.
The most difficult case of Get-refusal known in the past decade, by a recalcitrant husband incarcerated by the Rabbinical Court because of his refusal to abide by their ruling to divorce, was finally resolved. This case was regarded by Rachel, as Coordinator, as her "flagship" case. It had been going on for 14 years. The Prisoner Project, which is a major innovation and accomplishment of this project, was patterned after the needs of handling this particular case. This was one of the first cases where the husband was incarcerated by the Rabbinical Courts for a period of five years for refusing to give his wife a Get. It was in this case that the husband was the first to have sanctions levied against him within the prison walls. It was in this case that the husband was the first to be sent to solitary confinement. It was in this case that the husband was the first to be transferred out of the "Religious Ward" (where prisoners are treated very well, with prayers thrice daily, continuous Torah studies sometimes held on the lawn in a pastoral setting, food with special kashruth, full laundry services, etc. This man was highly respected for his knowledge of Torah and was regarded as a Rabbinical leader within that closed society [both by prisoners and wardens!!] ). It was the doing of the Coordinator over the past four years that saw to all these sanctions. The husband began to break under the weight of all these sanctions having been applied. However, he continued to hold out in his obstinacy, living in his own reality. The final change came about with the appearance of a new Rabbinical Court Judge assigned to this case. This Judge commenced handling the case in a completely different manner. As a result of all the efforts made, coupled with the obvious good-will that the new Judge was exhibiting towards both parties, the husband trusted the Judge enough to give his wife a Get. It was an image that was hard to believe. The now ex-husband became a free man, upon his release from jail. He is eager to begin a new page in life. The freed wife and children are flourishing in work and in school, respectively. The thanks of the ex-wife (and her mother!!) were overwhelming.
This is a story of a case which had come to Rachel's hands in the beginning of the year 2000 as a direct result of the initiation of the project ("Coordinator of Matters of Agunot and Get-Refusal"). The American father of a young abandoned woman, mother of young children, had turned to the Council of Young Israel Rabbis who referred him to the Project Coordinator. The young woman's husband had abandoned his family in Israel approximately two years earlier and was homeless and drifting in the United States. After meeting with the wife and execution of in-depth research by Rachel, a private investigator was retained by the Directorate of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts, with whom Rachel worked until the husband was located. At that point, contact was initiated through the mother of the recalcitrant husband. Through many overseas telephone calls, faxes, and emails--negotiations and coaxing took place until the Get was administered. This was done by proxy, with the cooperation of an American Rabbinical Court together with the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. Most importantly, this case was resolved leaving good feelings all around, so that the children of the couple traveled to the US to visit their father and grandmother whom they had not seen for several years, immediately after the Get.
An urgent plea of help was received by Rachel from the mother of a very young women whose young husband was losing his mental health. The young women had decided to divorce her husband but did not know how to deal with this very delicate situation, which had all the makings of a real agunah case. If the husband would indeed become mentally ill to the point of irrationality, she would be locked into a sterile marriage for the rest of her life. The family followed Rachel's very explicit instructions while she facilitated the workings within the Court. The young woman received her Get within 2 1/2 weeks. Four days later the young man was institutionalized. This project saved the young woman's life.