Am I an agunah yet?

Even though we were separated for 20 months, and I asked for a Get, many people told me I am not an agunah yet.


Becoming an Agunah is pretty simple. My spouse will not sign a Get to dissolve my dead marriage, which leaves me chained, so I am an Agunah.

Becoming a Get Refuser is a little more complicated, and is a self-inflicted title.
I want to talk about that.

Publicly shaming another person is forbidden by Jewish Law. It is comparable to murder.

Bais Din did not call out my spouse as a Get Refuser lightly.

Bais Din did not call out my spouse as a Get Refuser quickly.

Getting the Seruv was a long process.


Here’s how my spouse got issued his Seruv. 
(This version is a little embellished to respect privacy.)


When a Bais Din issues an Hazmanah, (Summons to Court) immediate response is needed! 

Many Bais Dins do not issue a Hazmanah at all, until they know both parties are amenable. If one of the spouses won’t participate in the Get process, and you have opened a case at one of these Bais Dins, your options are already severely limited.

I knew, going in, that my spouse was not going to “play fair.” I received advice from my Rabbi about which Bais Din to contact.

They discussed my case at length and at some point, they finally issued a Hazmanah.

When he received the Hazmanah from the Bais Din, my spouse initially ignored it.

Bais Din can actually issue a Seruv right then and there, but the prevailing custom is to wait until three invitations were issued, and then impose sanctions on the recalcitrant party.

After the second Hazmanah, my spouse called the Bais Din and explained that he is just very shocked that there is a divorce case open for him. He totally thought we were just separating for a while and that we would attempt to reconcile.

I had to get on a bunch of calls to assure the Dayanim that the marriage was irretrievable.

“Well… we’d like you to see So-and-So (the amazing therapist that helps seemingly hopeless cases) first,” the Dayanim said. “She will get a better picture of your dynamic for us and if she tells us that a divorce is in order, we will be much more comfortable.”

It was torture to sit in a room with the Man who abused and neglected me and listen to him express his expectations of Grace and forgiveness for his actions.

Grace that he never extended to me.

The therapist concluded that divorce was in order. Onwards!


Again, Bais Din issued two Hazmanahs before my spouse responded. He told them that he would not be able to attend on the date they set because- surprise!- he is recovering from long COVID.

Nobody was aware he ever contracted COVID… but he had a positive PCR test to prove it, which he sent in to Bais Din.

“When will you be sufficiently recovered to come in to a hearing?” Bais Din pressed.

“Um… I am not sure… my Doctor wants to run a few more tests first…” said my spouse.

Thus began a process of a red tape.

Before Bais Din delays the hearing and extends time to one of the parties, they require them to sign a Shtar Beruruin- an arbitration agreement, to make sure that they agree to abide by this Bais Din’s decisions, and that whatever decision Bais Din makes will be legally binding as well. After you sign that, they will decide if they will push off the hearing. (Once there is agreement to abide by the decision of a specific Bais Din, they can try the case in the person’s absence if they still won’t show up.)

My spouse “didn’t receive the email attachment” a bunch of times. 

Then he sent the form back, but didn’t sign it properly. 

Oh, dear. We’ll have to send it again

Again, he didn’t receive it.

They sent it to another email. Then to his parents’ emails. 

Man, he and his entire family lose so many attachments. I don’t know how they manage to do anything.

They sent the form to the business email. 

How do they run a business? 

“I don’t want to sign an arbitration form,” my spouse finally decided. “I don’t accept the authority of this Bais Din. They seem to have a pre-existing prejudice against me. They talk to me like I have issues or something. They don’t respect me.”

I wonder why.

Fine. You don’t have to go to the Bais Din that issued the Hazmanah. You can ask for another Bais Din to try your case. As long as you respond- in a timely manner- the Bais Din will not issue a Seruv against you for your Refusal to Appear, if you are making arrangements with another Bais Din.

“Here’s the Bais Din I would like to use to decide my case,” said my spouse.

“Rabbi Ploni VeryMaykel, who nobody in the city- or the world- considers reputable and the get signed by his Bais Din will be considered invalid.”

Rabbi Ploni sent me a Hazmanah. 

Now needed to declare that I want a different Bais Din.

“Of course this whole thing is dragging on and on,” my spouse cried to his circle of admirers. “She is being so difficult! SHE  refused to come to Bais Din. I was totally ready to sign her Get! Boo Hoo, I am such a victim.”

Next: We arrange for a Zabla, which means that I get to choose a Dayan I trust, my spouse gets to choose a Dayan he trusts, and they both get to choose who the third Dayan will be.

Meanwhile, don’t forget, custody arrangements and financial settlements have to be dealt with. This takes months!

I am busy fielding calls and meeting with my lawyer to gather information and paperwork to show in court, dealing with custody hearings and financial settlements and rescheduling and tons of red tape. 

My spouse was delaying and evading in civil court as well. 

Even when we finally got to present our case, and the Judge came back from his lunch break, my spouse called in witnesses who don’t speak English. Guess how long it takes to call in the court translator? 

At least Bais Din finally convened, with a couple of more last minute switches of the Dayan my spouse chose. They determined that my spouse needs to give me a get.

Thank you very much.

Now he just needs to set a date to come in and sign the Get!

I am still waiting for him to sign the Get.

The Bais Din has given him many chances to sign and they gave his excuses and demands the proper consideration, but after so many evasions, they gave him an ultimatum.

He did not sign the Get.

It has been years. He still hasn’t signed the Get.

My spouse is now under contempt of Bais Din. They issued a Seruv.

Seruv means that this person refused to accept the authority of the Rabbis of the Bais Din and that he did not respond to the Summons of the Bais Din.

And that, folks, is how my spouse became a “Get-Refuser.”

“Public Shaming” is a bit of a misnomer. 

You’re never allowed to shame anyone publicly. 

In this case, Bais Din is allowed to publicize my spouse’s shameful behavior, so that people may distance themselves from a person who rejects Rabbinic Authority.

Associating with my spouse now means that you, by association, don’t either respect Rabbinic Authority, or you don’t care to keep company with people who disrespect the tenets and laws of the Jewish Religion.

This is the Moshav Leitzim you are warned not to sit in!

The most painful part of being dragged through this Get process is seeing the way people treat my spouse. 

Are they blind? Or do they just not care?

I cannot emphasize this enough:

Bais Din does not issue a Seruv lightly!

Rabbeinu Tam was very strict about making sure the Get signing was completely voluntary.

Rabbeinu Tam also wrote a list of distancing measures for someone who got issued a Seruv from Bais Din. 

They are not a way to coerce the get, but a way to allow people to set boundaries between themselves and a Jew of questionable practices.

Here is the wording of the Seruv that has been issued:

“To date, no Get has been given by Mr. So-and-So.

Therefore, in accordance with Jewish law, it is proper and appropriate that members of the Jewish community abide by the Harchakot De’Rabbeinu Tam (the distancing measures described by Rabbeinu Tam)... 

These may include the following restrictions, exercisable by the community as an expression of their voluntary religious choice:

*Members of the Jewish community should not speak to Mr. So-and-so other than when absolutely necessary.
*Members of the Jewish community should decline to host him in their homes, or to provide him with food and drink, or invite him to their parties, or socialize with him.
*Jewish communal institutions, including synagogues, should adopt the following sanctions against him: 

(i) that he not be permitted to occupy any elective or appointive position, nor to serve as an employee, within the institution or any of its affiliates.

(ii)that he be excluded from membership in the institution or in any of its affiliates

(iii)that he not be given any honor or recognition, nor be granted any right or privilege of participation within liturgical services on any occasion whatsoever and 

(iv) that his name be announced on a regular monthly basis  at the conclusion of Shabbos services, and be published in the bulletin of the institution, in respect to his refusal to deliver a Get to his wife, with a call to the membership to limit their social and economic relations with him, until such time as he participates in the Get process.

Obviously, the moment he signs the Get, all sanctions are lifted and you go back to treating him normally.

When a Bais Din puts out a Seruv, they don’t add any unnecessary information about that person.

They don’t need to. 

“Get-Refusal” tells you everything you need to know.

A Get signed under coercion is an invalid Get.

If my spouse is coerced to sign the get, financially or physically, the Get will be invalid. 

Sometimes the only recourse available to an Agunah is to turn to the public.

 Social Pressure might be my only resort! 

Social Pressure, or “Public Shaming”, is not a form of Coercion, when there is a Rabbinic ruling to implement the sanctions of Rabbeinu Tam. 

The Harchakos D’Rabbeinu Tam are a means to incentivize the Get-refuser to do the right thing or suffer the sanctions of the community.

There is no direct coercion regarding the Get.

The Bais Din publicizes a Seruv to get a person to show up at the Bais Din. Coercing someone to attend a court of Jewish Law by Social Pressure is not the same as coercing their signature on the divorce document.

People disassociating themselves from an undesirable element in their society is not coercive; it’s protective.

So I implore you, as Queen Esther implored Mordechai: Stand together! And do the right thing for my sake. 

I cannot get out of these chains alone.

If someone has been issued a Seruv, please observe the Harchakot D’Rabbeinu Tam, and let others know as well.

Go Gather All of the Jews- and Pray for Me.

Hopefully my Salvation, and the Salvation for all Jews in dire straits everywhere, will arrive in the Blink of an Eye, and Soon!

- shared by current agunah