In response to the guilty plea of Rabbi David Wax to charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, the Rabbinical Assembly issued the following statement:
The Rabbinical Assembly condemns the actions of Rabbi David Wax, an Orthodox rabbi who confessed to kidnapping and extortion in a case to rescue a desperate agunah, or “chained woman,” whose husband would not grant her a divorce, thereby effectively preventing her from ever being able to marry again.
Judaism embodies many examples of how we can both preserve tradition and resolve fundamental problems that affect people’s lives, including personal status issues such as marriage and divorce. Indeed, Jewish law provides for a halakhic mechanism for resolving divorce disputes in the form of hafka’at kiddushin, the retroactive annulment of marriages.
The Joint Bet Din of the Conservative Movement presides every year over approximately 30 cases of hafka’at kiddushin, whereby the marriage is annulled based on the principle found in the Talmud (Gittin 33a) that all weddings are performed under conditions laid down by rabbinic authorities, and that rabbinic authorities can annul the betrothal if it is not found to be in keeping with the laws of Moses and Israel (k’dat moshe v’yisrael). Since 1990, the Joint Bet Din has presided over hundreds of cases of hafka’at kiddushin, thereby allowing women whose husbands refuse to grant a divorce, attempt to blackmail them, or disappear to remarry.
The notion that a woman’s ability to leave a marriage must be totally reliant on a man’s permission is anathema and an aspect of our Tradition that would be denounced by its own framers if they were legislating today. All over the world, we see countries in which women have not attained the freedom and equality that are their birthright as human beings. Even within our own society, there is still much work to be done on this front, and it is the duty of Jewish communities to affirm the priority of human dignity within our tradition. Practices that were forward thinking a thousand years ago need to be rethought. Marriages that trap women in such traumatic situations, and interpretations of tradition more generally that perpetuate this fundamental wrong, are inconsistent with our Jewish values.