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Women and Jewish Divorce
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Women and Jewish Divorce

The Wife's Role in Initiating Divorce in Jewish Law and the Agunah Problem: A Halakhic Solution

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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 aroused an uncontrollable repugnance in her, some authorities were willing to coerce the husband to divorce his wife after a suitable period. After the twelfth century and under the influence of Rabbenu Tam, most authorities rejected this solution. Concern was centered on preserving the family. So overwhelming was Rabbenu Tam's personality and so cogent his legal reasoning that all subsequent halakhic decisors accepted his views on this subject. To this day the law remains as he formulated it. The thesis of this work is that Rabbenu Tam's was a minority opinion, and that the mechanism for permitting wives to initiate and carry through divorce proceedings exists, if we are willing to use it. Such a mechanism may also provide a solution to one of the most tragic and vexing problems of modern Orthodox family life, the plight of those thousands of women whose husbands refuse them a religious divorce though they themselves have remarried after receiving a civil decree. In an appendix, Rabbi Riskin presents his version of a premarital agreement designed to prevent this situation from occurring.

  • By Shlomo Riskin
  • (196 Pages)Publisher: KTAV, 1988

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