Recalcitrant Husbands, Resolution of


Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the Board of Trustees

June, 2001


The Reform Movement has long been committed to attaining and ensuring full equality of women in all aspects of Jewish life. This commitment has been a motivating factor for many within our Movement to modify certain aspects of traditional halacha relating to marriage and divorce. With regards to religious divorce, or get, our Rabbi’s Manual quotes a responsum from Rabbi Solomon Freehof that states:

“Reform congregations recognize civil divorce as completely resolving the marriage and permit marriage of the divorced persons…. This objection has various arguments. The first is that the get contravenes the principles stressed by Reform of the equality in religious status of men and women.” (Ma’aglei Tzedek:  Rabbi’s Manual, 1988 edition, page 244, notes on “Dissolution by Marriage”)

The Reform Movement continues to uphold the principle that civil divorce is sufficient for dissolving a marriage. However, we also recognize that this is an issue of personal status and that, as such, we need to be cognizant of the effect on both parties to the earlier marriage of our decision, especially when one of the parties wishes to have a get as a matter of religious belief.

The plight of women who are agunot is well known to all of us. The CCAR made official note of this issue in its 1984 resolution “On the Get Law,” in which we stated that “we share the concern over the plight of Jewish women whose husbands refuse to give them a get.” There have also been numerous attempts to deal with this issue within many of the streams of Judaism: such as groups like Kayama (a non-profit organization that provides information and assistance for obtaining a Jewish divorce), as well as efforts to work within the halachic structure to avoid such situations, through requiring pre-nuptial agreements (such as the Lieberman clause in the Conservative Movement and similar documents in the Orthodox Movement) or through the establishment of b’tei din, such as the “Beit Din L’inyanei Agunot” established by Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, which is willing under certain circumstances to annul weddings in cases of recalcitrant husbands.

However, we also must recognize that, despite our best intentions, our own actions have the potential to make us complicit in keeping women in the status of agunot. The Rabbi’s Manual makes note of this and states: “If either bride or groom belongs to a non-Reform congregation, the rabbi should not agree to officiate without careful inquiry and consideration. Thus, if the woman is unable to obtain a get because the husband refuses to give it to her, Reform rabbis should try to persuade the recalcitrant husband to grant a get, but failing this they should not refuse to officiate.”(page 245, Note on “Dissolution of Marriage By Divorce”)

That note does not directly address the situation in which a divorced Jewish man may come to a Reform rabbi to get married without granting his wife a get. In such a situation, a rabbi who does the wedding without requiring the get significantly weakens the wife’s ability to have her ex- husband grant a get, thereby increasing the chances that she will remain an agunah.

The Responsa Committee, in its 1994 responsum “The Absence of a Get” dealt with this exact situation and noted: This, then, is not so much a matter that pits Reform divorce principles against Orthodox divorce principles, since all would agree that fairness prescribes that the woman’s status as an agunah be ended forthwith. Rather, this is a matter which calls upon us first to uphold “hayashar v’hatov,” and to help to bring about the speedy release of this woman, before turning to other considerations.

Therefore, since we are truly committed to women’s equality de facto and not only de jure, we must recognize that there are some situations in which requiring a get is the best means to achieving our goal.


  • Continues to recognize civil divorce as sufficient to actualize divorce within the Reform context, while we also call on all streams of Judaism to develop solutions within their own understanding of halacha that will prevent recalcitrant husbands from forcing their wives to become agunot, and to help release those women who are currently agunot.
  • Encourages its members, when inquiring about any previous marriages before officiating at a marriage ceremony, to inquire about the issuance of a get. If a get was granted, a copy of the document (or some reliable affirmation of the get, e.g. a letter from the rabbi involved in the granting of the get) should be submitted.
  • Strongly urge its members to abide by the following provisions if no get was issued:
  • If a man is to be remarried:
    • We urge the rabbi to require the man to provide a letter signed by the spouse of his previous marriage stating that there was no conflict over the granting of the get.
    • If the man is unwilling or unable to provide such a letter from the former spouse, the rabbi should make every effort to contact the ex-wife directly, clarifying whether the woman understands the consequences of not having a get and determining whether or not she now wants one.
    • If his ex-wife is willing to allow the man to re-marry without granting her a get, the marriage ceremony should still be performed. Preferably, she will indicate this in writing.
    • If, after a good-faith effort, the rabbi is not able to reach the ex-wife, the marriage ceremony should still be performed.
    • If the ex-wife indicates a desire to be granted a get, the rabbi should not perform a wedding for the man until he has granted his ex-wife a formal get.
  • If a woman is to be remarried:
    • If she desires a get, but the husband refuses to grant it, members should “try to persuade the recalcitrant husband to grant a get, but failing this they should not refuse to officiate.” (Ma’glei Tsedek: Rabbi’s Manual , page 245, Note on”Dissolution of Marriage By Divorce”)
  • Commends organizations like Kayama and all others across denominational lines who are working to address this important issue of social justice.