Following the disappearance of the Dakar, Rav Goren worked tirelessly to solve this case, and in June 1969 he published his lengthy ruling, which based on a variety of factors including the finding of a marker buoy on a Gaza strip beach earlier that year, as well as a complex analysis of numerous halachic sources – concluded that the 16 wives of those on board the Dakar were no longer agunot and were now free to remarry.
Despite the many questions that he had addressed, Rav Goren remarked at the time that the case of the Dakar agunot was the hardest he had ever faced in his life.
However, there is another side to this story which I think provides a further dimension to the efforts of Rav Goren to permit the Dakar agunot, and this story involves what is known as the “war get.”
When men would go out to war and not return, their wives would become agunot unless, as we have also recently learnt in Massechet Yevamot, there was clear evidence that their husbands had died. However, war is a messy thing, and not every death on the battlefield is witnessed and reported back. This led to the practice of the so-called “war get” – the instruction for a divorce bill to be given to a wife if her soldier husband did not return from battle. In fact, the Gemara (Ketubot 9b) states that “anyone who went to the war for the House of David would write a get for his wife.”
Over the years the war get was used intermittently, but it was in 1948 when the State of Israel proclaimed independence, and when it immediately had to fight for its survival during the war of independence, that attempts were made to re-establish the use of the war get.
At the time, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog was the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, while Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces. For Rabbi Herzog, the war get was an important tool, and he therefore issued a command that every married soldier who went to war would appoint a messenger to give his wife a get if he went missing and thereby avoid the problem of igun. However, Rabbi Goren disagreed for three different reasons.
First, he said that there were logistical problems of rounding up the soldiers to arrange these signatures. Second, he argued that the command for the soldiers to sign the war get would render this document invalid as a get issued under coercion is invalid. However, most significantly, Rav Goren asserted that the soldiers refused to sign this document. Why? Because the last thing a soldier wants to think about as he goes out to battle is the possibility that he will not return. For Rav Goren, the concern for the morale of the soldiers was of great importance, and any attempt to make the soldiers sign the war get would do tremendous harm to the fighters’ morale.
Despite Rabbi Herzog adopting a contrary position on all three of these points, he was unable to establish the war get. However, other solutions were needed all too soon.
Just one day before the establishment of the State of Israel, a combined force of the Arab Legion and local Arab men massacred 129 Haganah fighters and kibbutzniks, of whom 35 were buried in a temporary grave without clear identification. This left some of their wives agunot, given the absence of positive proof of death.
As he was later to do with the agunot of the Dakar submarine, Rav Goren worked incredibly hard to collect facts in order to help alleviate this problem. However, in his remarks at the time, Rav Herzog expressed a veiled criticism towards Rav Goren, writing that “We, the Chief Rabbinate of the Land of Israel, sought to advance and establish permission for a get to be written and signed in any case of a man going to war, but due to the lack of a military order this was not implemented in most cases.”
Though Rav Goren challenged these remarks and claimed that the reason soldiers did not have a war get was not due to the lack of a military order but rather due to logistical, halachic, and social reasons, it seems clear that Rav Goren felt an even greater sense of duty to solve cases of agunot in situations where a war get would have avoided them. I suspect this is why Rav Goren worked for three months without interruption, and why he published a responsum that was so long that it amounted to a book – to help the wives of those 16 sailors of the Dakar submarine.
See: The Israeli Dakar Submarine, The ‘War Get’ And Freeing Agunot By Rabbi Johnny Solomon
Promoting Halachic solutions
Mavoi Satum advocates for and promotes the use of creative halachic solutions to resolve complicated cases that come to our door and in order to protect against gett abuse. We work to expand the halachic grounds for divorce and to promote halachic tools such as prenuptial agreements, Bitul Kiddushin, Gett Mharsham, Gett Mi’shaa Ahrona, and conditional marriage.
Within the framework of Jewish law (Halachah) there are various options for resolving the phenomenon of divorce refusal and “chained women” – Agunot.
The notion that it is impossible to apply these solutions today is a misconception whose implication for the lives of many women is devastating. It is claimed that the rabbis’ hands are tied, their good intentions notwithstanding – but nothing could be further from the truth.
Divorce refusal can be preempted using prenuptial agreements, which impose financial sanctions on a husband who refuses to grant his wife a bill of divorce. Today, such an agreement is a condition of marriage within the Modern Orthodox community in the United States, and rabbis of this community will not marry a couple who have not signed this type of ‘prenup’. In addition, at the time of the wedding, a document can be signed attesting to the conditions under which the marriage is contracted – a mechanism that provides protection against becoming “chained” and which together with the ‘prenup’ helps ensure that no woman will remain an Aguna. Other mechanisms can be applied after the marriage, such as invalidation of the marriage on a variety of grounds, annulment of the marriage, ‘final hour’ divorce and more.
These Halachic solutions are not new, and are not recent inventions for modern times. They are based on long-standing traditions dating back to biblical times. Indeed, King David instituted a divorce document for his soldiers to sign before going into battle, so that if they fell captive their wives would not remain trapped in the marriage. The Gemara discusses this in Tractate Shabbat: “Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Everyone who goes to war waged by the House of David writes a bill of divorce to his wife” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 56a).
In 1924, the Rabbis of Istanbul, Turkey, published a pamphlet, “Provisional Kiddushin.” Due to cultural changes and distancing from tradition, women were being abandoned by their husbands. In order to deal with this distressing situation the rabbis proposed instituting provisional kiddushin.
Rabbi Ouziel, the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, was extremely disturbed by the plight of Agunot and sought to find a general solution to the problem, while at the same time finding creative and innovative solutions that he applied to individual cases that came before him. Rabbi Ouziel suggested including the following statement in the wording of the kiddushin: “In the opinion of the rabbis of a Beth Din (rabbinical court) in the city, if he causes his wife to become an Aguna, the Beth Din will have the power to annul the kiddushin retroactively.”
We are working on developing and implementing these solutions, in order to prevent the next case of aginut, and to allow women to marry according to Jewish law without fearing they may be chained forever in an unwanted marriage.
We work behind the scenes to convene Rabbinic forums, alternative private batei din, and coalitions of organizations to promote the adoption of halachic tools and spreading awareness and accessibility of these tools for the wider public.
Rabbi Soloveitchik’s response to Rabbi Rackman’s suggestion of using afkinhu to solve the agunah problem - 1975
And I also was told that it was recommended that the method of אפקעינהו רבנן לקידושין מיניה  be reintroduced. If this recommendation will be accepted, I hope it will not be accepted, however if this recommendation will be accepted, then there will be no need for a get. No need for a get. «האשה נקנית…בכסף בשטר ובביאה…וקונה את עצמה בגט ובמיתת הבעל» we will be able to cross out this mishna, this halacha; every rabbi will suspend the kiddushin. If such a privilege exists, why should this privilege be monopolized by the Rabbanus HaRoshis of Eretz Yisrael? Why couldn’t the Rabbinical Assembly do just as well as the Rabbanus HaRoshis, if the problem is אפקעינהו רבנן לקידושין מיניה?! Ribbono d’alma kula, what are you out, to destroy everything?! I will tell you frankly, I will be relieved of two masechtos. I will not have to say shiurim on Gittin and Kiddushin, and then Yevamos as well.
And I want to be frank and open. Do you expect to survive as Orthodox rabbis? Or, do you expect to carry on the masora under such circumstances? Curse will replace the Torah. I hope that those who are present here will join me in simply objecting to such symposia and to such discussions and debate at the rabbinical convention. When I was told about it, I thought, «Would it be possible?» I cannot imagine that at the Republican National Convention or Democratic National Convention, should we introduce a symposium on whether communism and democracy, perhaps communism should replace democracy in the United States. Could you imagine such a possibility? I can not. Because there is a certain system of postulates to which people are committed, and such a discussion, at the National Convention of the Republican Party, would be outside the system of postulates to which the American people are committed to. And to speak about changing the halachos of Chazal is, of course, is at least as nonsensical as discussing communism at the Republican National Convention. It is discussing self-destruction, a method of self-destruction and suicide.
I know; you don’t have to tell it to me because, בתוך עמי אנכי יושב, I don’t live in an ivory tower, I don’t live in a fool’s paradise. I know that modern life is very complex. I know your problems; many of your problems are passed on to me. We are confronted with horrible problems – social, political, cultural, and economic. Problems of the family, problems of the community, and problems of society in general. We feel, and I sometimes feel like you, as if we are swimming against the tide; the tide is moving rapidly, with tremendous force, in the opposite direction of which we are moving. I feel it, I know that – you don’t have to tell it to me. The crowd, the great majority, has deserted us, and cares for nothing. I know the danger of let’s say ta’aruvos – of weddings, of church weddings, in which a Jew or a Jewess is united in marriage by a priest and a Reform rabbi. I know all of that. We are facing an awesome challenge, and I am mindful of all that. I don’t live, as I told you, in a fool’s paradise. However, if you think that the solution lies in the reformist philosophy, or in an extraneous interpretation of the Halacha, you are badly mistaken. It is self-evident; many problems are unsolvable, you can’t help it. For instance, the problem of these two mamzerim in Eretz Yisrael – you can’t help it. All we have is the institution of mamzer. No one can abandon it – neither the Rav HaRoshi, nor the Rosh HaGola. It cannot be abandoned. It is a pasuk in Chumash: «לא יבא ממזר בקהל ה’». It is very tragic; the midrash already spoke about it, «והנה דמעת העשוקים», but it’s a reality, it’s a religious reality. If we say to our opponents or to the dissident Jews, «That is our stand» – they will dislike us, they will say that we are inflexible, we are ruthless, we are cruel, but they will respect us. But however, if you try to cooperate with them or even if certain halachic schemes are introduced from within, I don’t know, you would not command love, you would not get their love, and you will certainly lose their respect. That is exactly what happened in Eretz Yisrael! What can we do? This is Toras Moshe and this is surrender. This is קבלת עול מלכות שמים. We surrender.
The Torah summons the Jew to live heroically. We cannot allow an eishes ish, no matter how tragic the case is, to remarry without a get. We cannot permit a giyores to marry a kohen, and sometimes the cases are very tragic, I know from my own experience. I had a case in Rochester, with a gentile girl, she became a giyores, the woman became a giyores, before she met the boy. She was a real giyores hatzedek; she did not join our fold because she wanted to marry somebody – giyores hatzedek. And then she met the Jewish boy. He came from an alienated background, had absolutely no knowledge of Yahadus. She brought him close to Yahadus, and they got engaged, and he visited the cemetery – since he came closer to Yahadus, he wanted to find out about his family, about his family tree, so he visited the cemetery in which his grandfather was buried, and he saw a strange symbol – ten fingers like that. So they began to ask; he thought it was a mystical symbol. So he discovered that he is a kohen. What can you do? This is the halacha, that the kohen is assur b’giyores. I know the problem. We surrender to the will of the Almighty.
On the other hand, to say that the Halacha is not sensitive to problems and not responsive to the needs of the people, is an outright falsehood. The Halacha is responsive to the needs of both the community and the individual. But the Halacha has its own orbit, moves at a certain definitive speed, has its own pattern of responding to a challenge, its own criteria and principles. And I come from a rabbinic house; it is called beis harav, the house into which I was born, and believe me, Rav Chaim used to try his best to be a meikil. However, there were limits even to Rav Chaim’s skills. When you reach the boundary line, it is all you can say: «I surrender to the will of the Almighty.» There is a sadness in my heart, and I share in the suffering of the poor woman, who was instrumental in bringing him back to the fold, and then she had to lose him. She lost him; she walked away. This is why the Rambam says that talmud Torah is identical to קבלת עול מלכות שמים.
To speak about Halacha as a fossil, Rachmana litzlan, is ridiculous. Because we know, those who study Halacha know, it is a living, dynamic discipline which was given to man in order to redeem him and to save him. We are opposed to shinuyim (changes), of course, but chiddush is certainly the very essence of Halacha. There are no shinuyim in Halacha, but there are great chiddushim. But chiddushim are within the system, not from the outside! You cannot psychologize Halacha, historicize Halacha, or rationalize Halacha, because this is something foreign, something extraneous.
As a matter of fact, not only Halacha. Can you psychologize mathematics? I will ask you a question about mathematics; let us take Euclidean geometry. I can give many psychological explanations of why Euclid said that two parallels do not cross, or the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If I were a psychologist, I could interpret it in psychological terms. Would it change the postulate, the mathematical postulate? And Marah d’alma Kula – Almighty God – when it comes to Torah, which is from HaKadosh Baruch Hu, all the instruments of psychology, history, and utilitarian morality are being used in order to undermine the very authority of the Halacha. The human being is invited to be creative, inventive, and engage in inspiring research from within, but not from without. Instead of complaining against the inflexibility of Halacha, let us expose, let us explore its endless spaces, and enjoy talmud Torah, and find in talmud Torah a redemptive, cathartic, and inspiring reality.
Halachic Document Protecting from Future Agunot Traumas - הרשאה לגט
In response to Hamas’ brutal assault, Israel called up hundreds of thousands of reservist soldiers, many of whom are married and with families. In the time of King David, a practice began to write a conditional writ of divorce before setting out for war in order to protect the future of the soldiers' wives should something happen to their husbands during battle. Over the last century, Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Goren oversaw the signing of such documents before married soldiers went out to fight. Still today, an official procedure allowing every soldier the option to give permission for a divorce before going into battle exists on the books of the army’s general command office (34.0401). The army’s rabbinic division is responsible for implementing the order and does so in a reactive way at a soldier’s request, however, they do not actively distribute the document out of fear of harming the soldiers’ morale. With appropriate caution, we have requested that the halachic document be presented to soldiers before entering the war.
We also want to raise awareness about the documents and share relevant information here:
To sign the official document of the rabbinate, contact the rabbi of the base. Note that the wording of the rabbinate’s version includes protection only in the case of the husband’s disappearance during war and does not refer to the situation of an irreversible medical condition.
The Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center, founded in 2001 as part of Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Law, promotes the status of women in matters of family law and seeks to end gender discrimination and inequality in Israel
Women and Family Law Legal Aid Program
The Women and Family Law Legal Aid Program provides quality personal legal aid to women on matters of family law (divorce, refusals to grant Jewish divorce (get), child-support, custody, division of property and related matters), either through full legal representation or through initial telephone consultation through the helpline.
The program includes a legal aid clinic, which is designed to train the next generation of family law attorneys to be committed to promoting women and advancing gender equality.
Legal representation is only provided to a limited number of women, based on the Center’s limited resources. Representation is provided pro bono, with the exception of the fees and expenses involved in handling the case. Initial legal consultation is provided to all women free of charge.
The Women and Family Law Legal Aid Clinic
Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari – Academic Supervisor;
Adv. Yossi Mendelson – Professional Supervisor;
Adv. Hila Ohayon-Gliksman – Program Director.
This clinic is one of the multiple clinics run by the Faculty of Law. The clinic trains students in family law, based on the values of gender and social justice. The students who work at the clinic assist the women who are represented by the Center with their cases – starting with the initial meetings with the women to negotiations and filing of pleadings to the proceedings in the various legal instances. The students also attend lectures on practical and theoretical aspects related to representation of women in matters of family law and participate in a project for writing bills on issues related to family law.
Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline
Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline is the largest, most comprehensive and most experienced advocacy organization for agunot in the world.
Each year, an estimated 2,400 women join the circle of agunot and mesuravot get. Many of these women do not have the financial or emotional wherewithal, legal representation, social clout or political influence to fight for their freedom.
Ohr Torah Stone established Yad La’isha in 1997 specifically to help them and indeed, any woman in need can turn to the Center for help, regardless of her age, background or religious orientation.
While today there are other organizations which also assist agunot in various ways, Yad La’isha provides not only legal support in the rabbinical and civil courts, but also the services of in-house social workers and personal coaches who support clients emotionally and empower them to rebuild their lives.
Six advocates and four social workers staff branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Afula, enabling Yad La’isha to serve an average of 800 women annually (approximately 650 women receiving free legal counseling and 150 clients receiving representation at any given time).
Approximately 60 women each year gain their freedom due to Yad La’isha’s representation – women like Esther, whose husband left her to live with another woman somewhere in Eastern Europe; like Dina, whose husband broke a whiskey bottle over her head and stabbed her with the broken remains; or like Miriam, whose schizophrenic husband was declared incompetent to give her a get. Women like Galit, who suffered an abusive marriage for 40 years until she could take it no longer, and women like Michal, who eloped with her husband at the age of 16, only to discover five years and one child later that he was a pedophile who had been molesting her 10-year-old sister.
“For five years I lived in limbo,” says L.S. “I was terrified of returning to my violent husband, but the courts wouldn’t order him to grant me a get. Had I not been directed to Yad La’isha, I would still be living in fear and terror today.”