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the aguna problem in france

For many years the problem of the Jewish women in France whose husbands refuse to give them a “get”, once they have divorced in civil, has been in the center of the thoughts and actions of the Coopération Féminine (the French affiliate of ICJW) and WIZO.  Several  attempts have been made in the past to establish a common organization in order to approach officially the Beth Din of Paris when difficult cases became known which needed immediate help.

During recent years we have succeeded in having the Chief Rabbis of France and Paris make statements about the absolute necessity for recalcitrant husbands to give the get to their ex-wife, according to the Halacha.

Nothing having been obtained since many years, Lilianne Picard, VP for France of ICJW and myself made an appointment with Joelle Bernheim, the wife of the new Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, being aware that wives of Rabbis should be involved in the Agunah problem.

She agreed that this problem had become more and more serious and we decided to have a group of women, from several areas of the Jewish community, become active and willing to give some of their time and knowledge and thus work together, under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi of France himself.

In this group are wives of rabbis, a journalist working in a Jewish weekly, very religious and women’s lib at the same time, a lawyer, a young woman, religious and working in the computer field, two rabbis, a social worker and myself. We all have the knowledge of what is permitted according to Halacha and what is not.

After less than a year, in May 13th 2012, we organized a Yom Ha’Agunah, during a whole day. During that day there were lectures by Israeli lawyers, amongst which Michael Wygoda, brlllant, by Mrs. Nurith Fried who has initiated the “Toanot Rabaniyot” in Israel, to have women become members of the Beth Din when asking to have a get. After each lecture women came to tell their story, how many years they were waiting to get their religious divorce.

During lunch time a lawyer and a rabbi answered questions of women who had come for help and the whole day through the names of the women and their queries were taken in order to enable us to follow their cases.

Approximately 300 persons attended that Agunah day and since then we are following the cases. We accompany the women to the Beth Din, when they wish not to go alone there and sometimes this makes a difference.

At the same time, the woman lawyer of our group has succeeded to have the permission of the Chief Rabbi of Paris, and who is still at the head of the Beth Din of Paris, to come every Tuesday, take the phone calls and looks into the files of the cases not yet solved. This is giving good results, some cases have been solved, cases which had been “forgotten” in the files.

On February 3rd of this year, a “Day for the Women” had been organized by a social women’s organization helping families in all kinds of ways, and our group had a stand called “The agunah problem, under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi of France”. The whole day long women came with their cases and these cases are followed again.

We go on having monthly meetings at the home of Gilles Bernheim and his wife and the next step will be a declaration, first by the Chief Rabbi of France, followed, if he agrees, by the Chief Rabbi of Paris, that all men who do not give a get to their wife, when divorced civilly, are not allowed to be called at the Torah, will be notified so and, if necessary, will not be any more part of their synagogue.

It is sure that such a declaration is only valid for men going regularly to a synagogue, but even others, if they come only during Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippour, will not be happy if they are not allowed to be honored during these festivities. The declaration will be published in the main Jewish weeklies and monthlies and sent to the Rabbis and the Chiefs of the Jewish communities in France and Paris.

It is still a long way before the Jewish women will be freed when they wish so, and France is not an easy country for women, but as the saying is : where there is a will there is a way. The Chief Rabbi of France and his wife, the Bernheim couple, has a very strong will and so has our small but efficient group.

May I add that the main Jewish women’s organizations know now about this group, each of us get phone calls when women cannot obtain their get or do not know what to do before going to the Beth Din, so the information is having its way.

Respectfully yours,

Evelyn Ascot, France