CWJ Tort Strategy Extends Beyond Jewish Agunot


The problem of agunot—women trapped in a religious marriage—is a tragic phenomenon in the Jewish world. But did you know that women in other religions experience what is known as "marital captivity" as well?

Marital captivity refers to a situation in which a spouse (usually the wife) is unable to terminate a religious marriage, remaining 'trapped' in a marriage against her will.

Such a situation can have serious implications for the trapped spouse, such as the inability to remarry. This is true in Jewish marriages, where a wife can only be released if the husband gives a Jewish divorce (get) of his own free will.  This is also true for Muslim marriages.  Muslim religious law, like Jewish law, gives sole power to a husband to terminate a marriage. This creates a large class of women who are stuck in marital limbo, simultaneously divorced and married with little recourse.

In November 2016, CWJ executive director Dr. Susan Weiss presented a paper on “How to Make a Tort of Marital Captivity” at a conference entitled Marital Captivity: Divorce, Religion and Human Rights,’ which took placeat Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Dr. Weiss described CWJ’s pioneering strategy of “torts for get refusal” (suing recalcitrant husbands for civil damages if they refuse to deliver a religious divorce to their wives), and showed participants the ropes of how to build a case. CWJ’s tort tactic has proved very successful in freeing women from religious marriages in Israel, and has been mainstreamed. The audience, comprised of international legal innovators, activists and academics, were fascinated by Dr. Weiss’ talk, and saw an application in this tactic for helping Muslim women in Europe. As a result, CWJ is consulting on two such cases.

Now, in addition to having established our expertise supporting the rights of Jewish women in Israel, CWJ is excited that our work is extending beyond religious and geographic confines. This collaboration with European attorneys opens up a world of possibilities, directly leading to greater freedom and autonomy for women of diverse religions and nationalities. 

CWJ is grateful to the following institutions for their dedication to CWJ's legal outreach activities, maximizing the impact of our groundbreaking legal strategies:the David Berg Foundation, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches, Jewish Women’s Foundation of South Palm Beach County, and the Kathryn Ames Foundation, as well as donors whose general support provides a secure foundation for advancing our work.