The Plight of the Agunah in America: An Examination of the Institution of Orthodox Jewish Marriage and Its Repercussions
Haverford College. Department of Religion
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I came to this topic of the agunah ("chained woman") after grappling with my own connection to religion and whether there is only one path to experiencing the divine. I turned to Orthodox Judaism because of my own personal connection to the religion and my sense that the insularity suggested that there was a lack of understanding as I saw it. Orthodox Judaism straddles the line between embracing modernity and maintaining the integrity of religious traditions, which is where the problem of the agunah comes into focus. In exploring the insularity of Orthodox Judaism, it has been made clear why the agunah issue is not widely known. In this thesis, my aim is to shed light on this topic in order to initiate a conversation to a wider audience. My methods for exploring this topic were researching the foundation of Orthodox Judaism, which led me to a conversation with the rabbi of my synagogue, investigating the personal stories of agunah, as well as these women's activism in creating a platform and gaining support to free themselves from their dead marriages. What I found through my research and writing of this thesis was how the power of the rabbinical court strips women of their decision-making capacity especially when it comes to exiting marriage. I also discovered how activism around the agunah issue is on the rise, which led me to ascertain that this is a conversation that should be normalized outside the Jewish community. My hope is that with the opening up of the conversation, that the agunah issue will someday come to be resolved and women will be unshackled from these religious restraints.