By: Nechama Lowy  | 

ORA: A Light at the end of the tunnel

For most people, summer is a time to relax, maybe take on that hobby they have been meaning to perfect, or work on a project that they have not had time to focus on. I’ve worked both months in the summer for the past five years, so while there was not much relaxing time, I have always gained important skills and earned substantial money.

This year was different. I had the amazing opportunity this past summer to intern for an incredible organization, one that I can truly say taught me an immense amount -- ORA; the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, ORA deals with issues of Jewish divorce. In a traditional Jewish marriage, in order to legally separate and be able to remarry, the man must present the woman with a get (legal divorce document) and the woman must accept it. This gets tricky in messy divorce cases, and often times one party will withhold delivering the document or accepting it, thus binding the opposite party to the marriage and earning them the name agun or agunah (chained person). ORA works with both sides of the relationship to ensure the get is given and received. By speaking to both parties, providing assistance and resources to lawyers or rabbis, and using any halachic means possible to make the process happen smoothly, ORA does not rest until both parties are free to remarry. When I left my job at the end of the summer, they had just solved their 290th case.

The ORA staff is dedicated, hard-working, and extremely knowledgeable in Torah and worldly topics. Being that I had recently come back from seminary, I was worried about going from constant Torah learning in Israel to mundane studies back in America, but working at ORA and participating in their weekly chaburot (group lessons) and lunch-and-learns assisted my transition greatly.

The specific aspect of ORA I would like to focus on is their ability to face that which is negative and taboo with a rare kind of courage. Instead of turning a blind eye to real issues, the staff chooses to engage and fight, never giving up until their goal is met. While ORA sounds noteworthy, some might write it off as an important advocacy group but not one that will ever breach the boundaries of their respective communities. It is important to recognize that this is not the case, and more people that one might think actually utilize their resources.

Coming from a home with divorced parents, I entered the office with an awareness that the cases they deal with are not entirely foreign to someone with a similar background to me. I spoke many times with the director about my sensitivities to the topic, and while he did reassure me I would never have to be put in a position that made me uncomfortable, inherently facing and dealing with the issue of divorce everyday was inevitably going to affect me. While everything has been settled in my family for many years, it is not an experience I would ever wish to recount. Yet I found myself discussing it in great detail and coming to terms with the past in ways I never did before. The one silver lining being that it was not without hope that I faced my problems.

While ORA deals with frightening pasts, they are also committed to creating a brighter future through utilizing a legal document -- the Halachic Prenup. The prenup was composed by the Beit Din of America and endorsed by many Jewish leaders of our generation. By issuing a support obligation for every day a couple is separated and the get is not settled, the document ensures that the get will not be used as a form of extortion by either party in the marriage. The mandatory support falls on the party who is refusing to cooperate. The idea behind the Halachic Prenup is based on the lawful obligation of the man to provide sustenance to his wife while they remain married. In all cases where the prenup was properly signed and a copy was maintained, it has worked in preventing get refusal.  In fact, the importance of this prenup is so renowned and recognized that the Rabbinical Council of America will not officiate a marriage if there is no prenup signed.

Being an intern at ORA gave me the rare opportunity to witness a prenup being signed, and I remember the moment vividly. The prenup is considered a legal document so it is permissible for a women to act as a witness, allowing us an opportunity to be on the forefront of this important movement, and I was naturally very excited. I had spent a lot of time learning about the prenup and discussing its importance, so to finally be able to participate in a signing was a truly memorable moment for me. The couple sat down and my co-worker proceeded to explain the document, answer questions, and get the couple to open up and trust us enough to put an aspect of their marriage in our hands. As I sat watching them, I was struck by a certain sense of calmness and serenity. Watching the way they interacted, how they teased each other, and laughed together gave me unexplainable joy. I could tell there was real love and care between them; a love that went so far, they were willing to be bound by a legal document that states even in the worst case scenario, if all fails and our marriage does not work out, the money, house, and physical property will never come close to being as important as your safety and happiness. In essence, that is what signing the prenup says in words that do not have to be spoken -- for it is an act so great, words cannot express it. In an act of pure selflessness, of genuine self-sacrifice, the couple signed the prenup, said their goodbyes and left. Just like that, I had witnessed so much more than a few words being written on paper. I witnessed hope.

Resolving agun and agunah cases has been a challenge for the past generations, and it still continues to plague our communities. But to know there is a remedy, the prenup, and that people are utilizing it has made every negative moment I endured, every painful experience I re-lived of what messy divorces can result in, worth it. Facing problems becomes more bearable knowing that there are solutions, and that's exactly what ORA works towards. They don't shy away from the flaws of humanity, hiding behind tradition and letting it dictate our lives. Instead, they persevere and find creative, revolutionary paths to ensure we do not remain bound to the mistakes of our past.