Who is Behind the New “Free the Agunah” Movement?

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City Council Candidate, Amber Adler and her children with Chava Sharabani whose plea to Dalia helped spawn the movement

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

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Dalia Oziel is a singer, songwriter, and Instagram Influencer who has, apparently, started a revolution in how the Jewish community responds to Agunos.  Once, it was veritably impossible to speak about the dire situation of Agunos.  But now, the terrain has now changed.

It is not a good time for people to be withholding a Get right now (if it ever was).

Some Rabbis believe that withholding a Get is such a chillul Hashem at this point that it should not be an option evern where there is alleged alienation of a father. These Rabbis feel that a get should never be used as a threatening tool at all and that it is a grave chillul Hashem to do so.  “How can one keep a woman chained for so many years? Why should a man be allowed to extract cash from a woman and her family just to grant her a religious document allowing her to remarry?” is the new thinking.

The Five Towns Jewish Times spoke to Dalia Oziel who was the main game-changer in the new attitude toward helping Agunos.

RYH: There are so many new Agunah movements here. “Free Chava”, “Free Elizabeth”, Free etc..” and numerous people are attending rallies. Were there men present at the Save the Elizabeth rally as well, or was it just women?

DO: Yes, there were [men].  This has been a phenomenon that first started with women, but men, and Rabbis as well – have jumped on board.  This is now a klal Yisroel thing.

RYH: Who thought of the Mantra, “NO GET, NO PEACE! NO GET, NO PEACE?”

DO: I do not know, actually.

RYH How do you explain how it [the new movement] – got so viral?

DO: I think it is because people see that there were just regular normal people involved in this, just regular people out of nowhere – this caused many other people to be involved. Then, when everyone started speaking up – it motivated more and more people.  People then started getting involved themselves.

RYH: Is it true that you are also involved in Kiruv work, and do you think that this has had an effect in your involvement here?

DO: Yes, I do so in the summers. And, also, I give concerts for Kiruv organizations.  As far as whether this had an effect – while there was no direct connection per se – it clearly has to have [had] one – because you have to have your heart open to everyone and when one of the Agunos called – how could you say no, [to such a person]? How can you not help – especially since there was a psak from the Bais Din to spread it?

This is no longer about “Free Chava” – it transformed into Free Agunos – because everyone knows someone.  It could be relative, a friend from high school, a neighbor. Someone down the block.. Someone in shul, that you think is divorced but wasn’t.

RYH: When was the first time you came across an Agunah?

DO: It was just this past summer, and we did not even know she did not have a get.  This was something that was going on ten years..

RYH: Are there other Influencers involved in this [movement]?  Forgive my ignorance as to what Instagram Influencers means..

DO: It is not an exact term.  And, yes, they are all involved in it.  The big ones came on board first.  Then even smaller ones with between 200 and 1000 followers came on board.  But once again, this is all of Klal Yisroel being involved.

RYH: How do you ensure that you are not “backing the wrong side?”

DO:  This is a very hard question.  What we are doing is that we are relying on the Beit Dins in terms of issuing a seruv and the Rabbonim of that Beis Din to authorize our going public on social media.

RYH:  What about the secular media – are they getting involved?

DO:  We do our best not to involve the secular media.  We have already refused interviews with top media on this. Netflicks reached out to us and we said, “no.” There is a reason that we are keeping this only to Jewish influencers. Some are disagreeing with us on this because the secular media [has been shown as being] {is} so effective in getting a Get. True, this may get out to the secular press – but we aren’t the one’s doing it.  We are following the psakim of the Beit Dins about putting it on social media.

RYH: What about the Chillul hashem factor?

DO: We are focusing on the desired outcome – it is definitely a chillul hashem – but it is on the person who is refusing to listen to the Beit Din.  The fact that there are abusers is the chillul Hashem.  This is abusing the Torah.  Us witnessing this chillul hashem is what is motivating Klal Yisroel to speak up and react.

RYH:  What was your proudest moment recently – after this movement went so viral?

DO: The fact that there was a woman who was an Agunah for 17 years and that person [her husband] went ahead and married another woman.  That second wife was encouraged to come forward when the husband had physically abused wife number two and at least one child.  Anyway, the family is safer now  – because of this movement and the first wife got her Get.  To see these results are truly emotional.

RYH:  Are there repercussions beyond these individual cases?  Are you seeing a sea-change in attitudes?

DO:  Boruch Hashem, there are.  There is a word called, “synergy” – which means one plus one equals three. It means two people – being able to lift together more than either of them could have lifted alone added up together.  That is what is happening here.

The power in numbers is unbelievable.  This is not just women now, it is a number of men as well.  People are seeing the power of social media now.

RYH:  What are your thoughts on the fact that this “Free the Agunah” Movement is coming from women?

DO: I do want to point out that it may have started with the women, but there are soo many men and Rabbonim on board now – so it may have started with women, but this is no longer the case.

Also, there are also so many midrashim that point out how women took the first step and encouraged men to get on board too.  There is the wife of Ohn Ben Pelet who tried to get her husband out of the rebellion of Korach..And that worked.  That is why his name is mentioned in the beginning of Parshat Korach, but not later on.  There is Avigayil –  who convinced Dovid HaMelech to change his mind and he saw that she was right.

RYH: Do you think that there are some men who are chaining their ex-wives that are running scared now?

DO:  Each case is very different.  But definitely, before the “Storming of Social Media” that has been transpiring here – there was no social pressure.  Now there is. And a lot of people are running scared that they will be next.

RYH:  Is there a team here, or is it mostly just one or two people?

DO:  There is a definitely a team. And they are interviewing, and going through cases one by one.  I want to mention Shira Stern from Monsey there is also Yael Braun.  Both of their work here is so integral, and there are so many other people too.

RYH:  Are there any words that you want to say to the other Agunos out there?

DO:  Yes, definitely.  First of all, you should all know that there is an expression [in the slichot] that says, “yeshu’at Hashem k’heref ayin – Hashem saves us in the blink of an eye.”

So, [Agunot out there] – continue davening – everyone, should be davening and saying tehillim because a tefilah is never wasted. The tears you shed now could help you, they could help another Agunah.

But also you should know that Klal Yisroel, all of Klal Yisroel – women and men, are looking out for you.  It is so wrong when people try to take advantage of Torah halachot to extract money and revenge on others.  We know of so many gedolim that tried to help past agunot.  There is a famous story with Rabbi Akiva Eiger – ask your Rav about it.

RYH:  Well, thank you so much.

DO: Thank you!

The author can be reached at [email protected]

[photo credit Anna Rathkopf]


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