How I Explained Agunahs to My 10 Year Old Orthodox Son
It was during a recent Friday night dinner with my family that the topic of Jewish divorce came up. I can’t remember why we were speaking about it or what led my husband and me to explain to my son how divorce is handled in the Torah – Biblically, the husband can divorce his wife, but she can’t get divorced from him unless he agrees to give her a get – but it was the first time, in his almost eleven years, that he heard about this concept, and the first thing he said was, “That’s not fair!”
And to tell you the truth, his reaction put a bit of a smile on my face. Not because I want him to be rebellious against the Torah or abandon the ways of our forefathers, God forbid. Jewish learning and observance is the foundation of our lives. But him expressing that this challenging law upset him made me happy for several reasons: One, we’ve taught him to value women. I live in a community where women are treated with tremendous respect, but I had never raised a son before him, let alone an Orthodox one. I didn’t know if or how these ideas would be communicated, and I was relieved to see they have been.
Two, we’ve taught him to be upset if it seems that someone is being mistreated. We are not able to even out all the injustices of the world and sometimes, it is God Himself who decrees them in His laws. But we’re supposed to be compassionate people and my son was hurt by the idea of someone being mistreated, and I’m proud to have a son who feels for others.
Three, we’ve taught him to feel free to speak his mind, even if it goes against the teachings we live by and value so dearly. It is a challenging thing to both want to cling to a way of life that you believe is true, even while you struggle with parts of it. I didn’t know if that nuance could be communicated to a child, but it seems it can be.
Lastly, my son is a budding Avraham Avinu, who also argued with God when He was going to destroy Sodom an Amorrah, because Avraham hurt when others hurt and had a good enough relationship with Hashem that he could argue with the Master of the Universe. How could a Jewish mother not schep nachas from that?
My husband and I explained that the Torah was given in very different times, when a woman couldn’t survive without being married, but that in modern times, it’s a challenge that bothers us and we were proud that this bothered him too. We explained that it’s OK to be bothered with parts of the Torah, especially when they seem to contradict other parts of the Torah about loving your neighbor as yourself. In fact, the word Yisrael (Israel) means struggles with God. Being thinking and caring enough to feel challenged by parts of Judaism is actually what we’re meant to do.
But we also left him with hope. We told him about the halachic prenup and how it has been successful 100% of the time in preventing agunahs when duly signed and executed in 0ver 20 years of use. (There is even a charedi version of one which has recently come out.)
I don’t remember how the conversation with my son about Jewish divorce started, but I do remember how it ended, and I was proud.
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