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מי שברך לעגונות | Mi sheBerakh to Support Agunot and Call Get Refusers to Account, by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer

There are few loopholes in Jewish law worse than refusing a get. In Orthodox practice, only the husband in a marriage may sign a get, so a husband who seeks to extort his wife can refuse to sign a get unless his demands are met. A woman whose marriage is functionally dead but who has no get is known as an agunah, or a “chained one.” In the old days, a husband who refused to sign a get would be lashed until he agreed, but nowadays we no longer perform corporal punishment. So more women than ever before have been stuck as agunot, between abusive husbands and a halakhic system unfortunately ill-equipped to help.

There is a long, long precedent for public shaming of individuals who break the moral code of the community. Often this would involve temporary or even permanent excommunication, or simply announcing their name in public. Although it is generally considered inappropriate to bring disgrace upon Israel, in the case of one who acts in an evil enough manner it is certainly permitted, or even encouraged, to air grievances in public.

This prayer, following the structure of the Mi Sheberakh supplications during the Torah service, is meant to call get refusers to account, by name, and make a statement that their behavior is evil and will not be tolerated. In the place of the standard opening of a Mi Sheberakh, calling on the merit of the patriarchs, this one calls on the merit of three righteous Biblical women with wicked husbands. It continues with a textual justification of the public shaming that is to occur, citing Torah and the sages, and after publicly listing the names it concludes yet again with a plea for the goodness of God to fall upon these women and those who support them.

The agunah crisis is a difficult one, perhaps unsolvable completely according to our modern halakhic system. But holding those who abuse the system for their own benefit to account is necessary and vital, and solidarity with those who suffer for it even more so.

Hebrew English

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ הַצַּדִּיקוֹת
רוּת וַאֲבִיגַיִל וְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה
May the One who blessed the righteous women
Ruth and Avigayil and Queen Esther

וּמִי שֶׁאֵרַר הָרְשָׁעִים
מַחְלוֹן וְכִלְיוֹן וְנָבָל הַכַּרְמְלִי וְהַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ׃
and the One who cursed the wicked
Maḥlon and Khilion and Naval the Karmelite and King Aḥashverosh,

הוּא יְבָרֵךְ וִישַׁמֵּר וְיַצְדִּיק וְיִגְמֹל
עַל כׇּל־נְשֵׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַתְּפוּסוֹת בְּמַצַּב עֲגוּנָה חַיָּה
בִּגְלַל אַנְשֵׁי בְּלִיַּעַל שֶׁנִּשְּׂאוּ לָהֶן
וְעָזְבוּ אוֹתָן וְלֹא שִׁלְּחוּ בִּידֵיהֶן גֵּט סֵפֶר כְּרִיתוּת.
Bless and guard and justify and reward
all the women of Israel trapped in a state of living agunah
on account of lowly men who were married to them
and abandoned them and did not send them a get, a writ of divorce,

כְּמוֹ שֶׁצִּוָּה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרָתוֹ הַקְּדוֹשָׁה —
וְכָ֨תַב לָ֜הּ סֵ֤פֶר כְּרִיתֻת֙
וְנָתַ֣ן בְּיָדָ֔הּ
וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ מִבֵּיתֽוֹ׃ (דברים כד:א)
as the blessed Holy One commanded in [God’s] Holy Torah:
“And he will write her a writ of divorce
and give it in her hand
and send her from his house.”[1] Deuteronomy 24:1. 

וְאָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה —
אָמַר רַב אַשֵּׁי
הַאי מַאן דְּסַנַאי שׁוֹמְעָנֵיהּ שָׁרֵי לֵיהּ לְבַזּוּיֵיהּ׃ (ת״ב מגילה כה ב)
וּבִלְשׁוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ מֵימְרָה זוֹהִי נֶאֱמֶרֶת כֵּן —
הֵן מִי שֶׁשָּׂנוּי‎ שְׁמוֹ
מֻתָּר לְבַזּוֹת לֹוֹ׃
And out sages of blessed memory said:
“Rav Ashi said:
Hai man d-sanai shom’aneih, sharai leih l-vazuyeih.”[2] BT Megillah 25b  
And in the holy language, this statement is translated:
“Behold, one whose reputation is foul,
it is permitted to degrade him.”

בִּרְשׁוּת יְשִׁיבָה שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה
וּבִזְכוּת יְשִׁיבָה שֶׁלְּמַטָּה
הִנְנִי אֶקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי הַבְּלִיַּעַל בְּתוֹכֵנוּ
שֶׁעָזְבוּ אֶת־נְשׁוֹתֵיהֶם בְּמַצָּב עֲגוּנָה חַיָּה
[פלוני, פלוני, פלוני]
וְלֹא יִרְבּוּ כְּמוֹהֶם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל!
And thus,
With the permission of the council on high,
and by the merit of the council below,
Here I will call out the names of the lowly men in our midst
who abandoned their wives in a state of living agunah
[names go here]
and may there not be many of their kind in Israel!

כִּי לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּמוֹהֶם עֲווֹן מְרֻשָּׁע
וַעֲלִילַת תּוֹעֵבָה
וּמַעֲשֶׂה עַל חִלּוּל הַשֵּׁם׃
I call them out
for to act as them is an evil iniquity
and an abominable plot
and a deed of desecration of the Name.

הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא
הַנּוֹתֵן לָרָשָׁע רַע כְּרִשְׁעָתוֹ
הוּא יְשַׁלֵּם לָהֶם אֶת־גְּמוּלָם שֶׁגָּמְלוּ לִנְשׁוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל.
May the blessed Holy One,
who deals evil to the wicked according to their wickedness,
repay them for for the treatment with which they have treated the women of Israel.

וְיֵיטִיב טוֹבַת טוּבוֹ לְכׇל־הַנָּשִׁים
שֶׁבְּצָרָה וּבִצְרוּרָה בִּגְלָלָם
וִיחַזֵּק אֶת־יְדֵי כׇּל־מִי שֶׁרָבִים אֶת־רִיבָן
לְכוֹנֵן שֵׁנִית שֵׁם טוֹב בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל׃
And may [God] deal good, the goodness of [God’s] good,
to all the women in straits or in strife on their account,
and strengthen the hands of all who would argue their argument,
to reëstablish a good name in Israel.

וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן׃
And to this we say Amen.


1 Deuteronomy 24:1.
2 BT Megillah 25b

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