Vigil for Agunot: Ta’anit Esther

This is the Year of the Agunah (1994); the year dedicated to freedom for Jewish women who are caught in the chains of broken marriages; women who are tied to men who will not release them from their Jewish marriages; women who may be divorced civilly but who cannot divorce halakhically.

This is the day before Purim, the holiday of Jewish survival, dedicated to celebrating our freedom from an oppressive and vindictive man.

This is the holiday in which we recognize the courage, wisdom, and leadership of a woman named Esther. And this is the commemorative day on which that woman, Esther, called upon the community of Jews to demonstrate their collective accountability.

And so we stand here tonight to call our Jewish community to account.

The story of Purim involves a wicked vizier and a foolish king’s decree to slaughter the Jews of Persia. Queen Esther is called upon by her cousin Mordecai to step forward and save her people. Esther accepts the burden and the incumbent risks. She knows she may die at the king’s whim. In preparation for her meeting with the king, she and her companions choose to fast. But Esther understands that it is not enough for her to fast alone. It is not enough for her to risk her life alone. In order for her efforts to be effective, the whole community has to fast. Everyone has to unite and take responsibility for his/her own fate. By fasting together everyone demonstrates their support and collective accountability.

We stand here tonight to make that same request. We call upon every member of our Jewish community to stand up and be counted. Too many women are persecuted by Jewish men. Too many women are not free. Too many are caught in the shackles of the Jewish divorce system. These women depend on each and every one of us. And our survival as a community is tied to our ability to respond to them. Let us use this fast of Esther to strengthen our resolve as a community to work together to release these women from their chains and rescue our people from this shame.

Coalition of Jewish Women for the Get in Canada. Used with permission of Norma Josephs.

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