Jewish Woman’s Right to Divorce

A Halakhic History and a Solution for the Agunah

By Shlomo Riskin

Format: Hardcover



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A Halakhic History and a Solution for the Agunah
Can women faced with an intolerable marital situation initiate divorce in Jewish law? Not for the last seven centuries. But this was not always so, and in this trailblazing book Rabbi Riskin argues that there are ways in which women can start divorce proceedings.
In early Talmudic times, a woman who refused to participate in marital relations because of pique was the subject of increasingly harsh rabbinic legislation. In late Amoraic and medieval times, the focus of debate shifted. If the wife claimed that her husband evoked feelings of repulsion in her, the major Talmudic opinion was that the rabbinical court should coerce the husband to divorce his wife. The early Geonim even insisted that the wife receive her complete alimony as provided by the marriage contract.
After the twelfth century and under the influence of Rabbenu Tam, most authorities rejected this solution. Concern was centered on preserving the family and although the Talmud itself accepts a nullification of a marriage when the husband behaves in a negative or manipulative manner, the majority of halakhic decisors rejected this view.
Nevertheless, there were always a minority of instances in which the Rabbenu Tam was overruled and even when marriages were annulled. Unfortunately, most Religious Courts today follow the most stringent opinion.
The thesis of this work is that since the Talmud itself urged leniency in cases where women found themselves chained to an intolerable marital situation, it is incumbent upon the Religious Courts today to utilize the means provided by Jewish law to provide a solution for the plight of those women refused a divorce by recalcitrant husbands. In an appendix, Rabbi Riskin presents a premarital agreement designed to prevent a woman from being unfairly held hostage.

About the Author
Rabbi Riskin is the Chief Rabbi of Efrat, the Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges, Graduate Programs and Rabbinical Seminary and is the founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue. He is also the author of Torah Lights, a contemporary commentary on the books of Genesis and Exodus, a commentary on The Passover Haggadah, and Around the Family Table.