Model Rabbinic Leadership – In Uruguay

Handcuffed WomanAn opinion piece in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post provided additional details about a story we reported on about two weeks ago.

In the small Jewish community of Uruguay, where there are an estimated 10,000 Jews, there has been an increasing problem of agunot – “chained women” who cannot remarry under Jewish Law because their husbands refuse to give them a Get (Jewish divorce document). This is despite the fact, or perhaps because of it, that many Jews in Uruguay who are not necessarily observant, prefer to have an Orthodox wedding.

Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz, chief rabbi of Uruguay, felt the pain of these women and was therefore receptive to an initiative launched by Sara Winkowski – a director of the “Kehila” (Jewish Community of Uruguay) – in order to resolve the problem. A prenuptial agreement, developed by a legal committee to conform to both Jewish and Uruguayan law was developed and supported by the board of directors of the Kehila. Chief Rabbi Spitz not only authorized the use of a prenuptial agreement designed to prevent get-refusal, he mandated its use.

As a result, the Kehila, which is the keeper of a registry of Jewish weddings, will not conduct marriages of couples that do not sign the Rabbinic Prenuptial Agreement. Moreover, the Kehila will no longer enter into the registry or issue certificates of Judaism to families that do not participate in the signing of the prenuptial agreement. This is one of the few ways for Jews from Uruguay to be recognized as Jews by the State of Israel.

The author, Dr. Rachel Levmore, is a member of Beit Hillel and summarizes the lessons to be learned from this story:

In contemporary society, leading rabbis tend to stay away from preventative solutions.

It takes the small Jewish community of Uruguay, together with its local communal institution – the Kehila – and its chief rabbi, Ben-Tzion Spitz, to teach us all a lesson. Jewish communities the world over can, and should, stamp out the agunah problem.

Dr Rachel LevmoreDr. Rachel Levmore, Rabbinical Court Advocate, is the Coordinator of the Agunah & and Get-Refusal Prevention Project for the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency; a member of the State Committee for the Appointment of Dayanim; author of “Min’ee Einayikh Me’Dimah: Heskemei Kdam Nissuin LeMeniat Seiruv Get”, Mosdot Ariel & CYIR, Jerusalem 2009.


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