Kayla Haber Goldstein is Revolutionizing the Aguna Process

While Torah Judaism is a rich and beautiful way of life, some raised within it struggle to find their place. (This is the reason Jew in the City launched Makom.) Unfortunately, kids who are brought up in homes where they’re not given space to learn and find their own path can feel stifled. Sometimes, they just don’t know anything else. Sometimes, there’s a traumatic event that can cause a shift and force them to look into Judaism and God in a new light.

That was Kayla Haber Goldstein’s experience. She grew up as a Haredi Jew in Israel, the daughter of a big rabbi and never questioned anything about her way of life. “It wasn’t really something we did,” she says.

Then, she got married and moved to America and realized that maybe she didn’t want to be the exact type of Jew her family raised her to be. Having her second son ended up being a very difficult birth and postpartum experience, and it left her angry. Through that experience though, she started looking for answers of her own. 

“I was surprised with what I found,” she shares. “Our heritage has so much nuance and spectrum and you can really find your place. I thought I was the only one but when I started talking to my friends and other people, I realized a lot of us felt trapped and stuck by how we were raised.”

Kayla believes that Haredi women needed to be encouraged to go out and learn for themselves, not just in a school setting. She turned her own learning into a book called Questioning the Answers which turned into events which later became an Instagram account and is now morphing into a nonprofit.

She speaks to people from all different backgrounds and has met people who were raised Modern Orthodox and became Chasidish, raised Chasidish and became more modern or like Kayla, who grew up Haredi Litvish and became Mizrach Baal Shemtov. “It doesn’t make sense, and that’s the beauty of it, everyone finds where they’re going to end up.”

Part of her work is opening up conversations on Instagram where her followers will explore topics with her from the sources in the Torah. She does this once a month and one month a few years ago, she woke up to 70 questions about the aguna crisis, or a situation in which a woman and husband decided they want to end their marriage but the husband won’t give her a get (a Jewish divorce) and therefore, she is chained to a dead marriage and can’t get married to anyone else or move on with her life.

The questions flooded her inbox the day after singer Dalia Oziel posted about an aguna who is still stuck in her dead marriage, named Chava. Dalia did immense work to help Chava receive her get and the whole situation lit up the Orthodox world — everyone was wondering, how do we have a system in place that allows this? How can I feel safe getting married if this can happen to me?

In the past, all women were reliant on their husbands to take care of them in all ways — financially, emotionally, physically and sexually. That’s where the Ketubah comes in. It is a written contract that says as a husband, he will provide for his wife. If a husband decides to leave the marriage or they both decide to end it, and the husband doesn’t give a get, he is halachically still bound by this marriage contract and every day he doesn’t give the get, he is going against the Torah, Kayla explains.

As history evolved, the ways to ensure a man released his wife from the marriage changed. If he didn’t do it initially, the community beis din would issue a seiruv, which is basically a way to excommunicate him. People aren’t allowed to do business with him, he doesn’t count in a minyan (the ten men needed for a prayer service), no one can eat with him, he basically can’t be a part of society. When communities were smaller and Jews only did business with Jews, this really worked.

It was also halachically okay to force him into it, a.k.a. beat him up until he agreed to give the get. Of course, this is now illegal to do so the seiruv is meant to apply pressure in other ways.

Unfortunately, a get refuser can skip from community to community to avoid the implications of excommunication. Another initiative that’s become quite popular is the halachic prenup. This is a document couples sign before marriage that says if they decide to end the marriage, they will go to a beis din already agreed upon and if he refuses to give the get, there is a certain amount of money he needs to pay his wife every day until he does, because technically that means they’re still married and he has an obligation to support his wife. This is a document that can be used in a secular court, so if the beis din and the seiruv aren’t doing anything, the recalcitrant husband can actually be tried and put in jail.

Kayla comes from a place that while the rabbis in the Jewish world want to help more than anything, they often feel stuck. “There’s not enough manpower in the world to manage every single person,” she says. “They’re overloaded and don’t know what to do.”

She is working desperately to change that though. This Sunday, April 7, she is hosting an asifa, or a gathering, of rabbis where all can join virtually and learn from top rabbis about how to handle the get situation or couples in crisis. She’s put together an impressive lineup with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, her father, Rabbi Haber, and more who are speaking about what to do to avoid the aguna situation in the first place, what to do when a couple comes to them talking about divorce, how to guide them through it and what to do when a case escalates so no one has to shoulder it alone or feels like they don’t want to get involved. 

“We’re going to fix this together and one community at a time, we’ll make it safer for women to get married,” she says. The work that Kayla is doing is very much in line with our Tikun branch – insiders creating positive change from within.

Right now, 120 rabbis are signed up from around the world. She’s encouraging anyone reading this to send it to their own rabbi since hearing from a member of their own congregation or community will certainly make the biggest impact on them attending.

Kayla’s ultimate goal is to create one central authoritative committee that every rabbi follows. This vaad would be comprised of leading rabbonim from around the world. “That way, any get refuser that exists would have nowhere to run because the vaad would be touching every community,” she says.

If you’re a rabbi and want to register for this Sunday’s asifa, (or you want to pass it along to your rabbi!), click here.

If you found this content meaningful and want to help further our mission through our Keter, Makom, and Tikun branches, please consider becoming a Change Maker today.


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