A new rabbinical court that will address the issue of women whose husbands refuse to give them a religious writ of divorce (known as agunot) will be established next year in New York.
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The establishment of the court (beit din) was announced on Sunday at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance conference in New York.
The court, which will not have any institutional affiliation, will be headed by Rabbi Simcha Krauss of Jerusalem. Krauss, a leading Modern Orthodox rabbi and widely respected scholar, said that he would like to establish open an affiliate court in Israel eventually.
He 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 court will utilize little-used and obscure resources in Jewish religious law to free agunot, including the excommunication from communal prayer of their husbands. It will also rely on Sephardic laws, which 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.
"The goal of this project is to humanize the beit din,” Krauss said. “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.”
He acknowledged that the biggest challenge facing any avowedly independent religious court was 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.”