(2012) JLP 65: 165-204
The get (Jewish divorce) can only be granted by the husband. Refusal by some Jewish husbands to grant the get has created the widespread problem of the agunah (chained wife) who, without a religious divorce, cannot remarry according to Jewish law nor have legitimate children in the eyes of her religious community. This article studies the measures put in place in Canada and Israel to address this social problem. It presents the results of two years of fieldwork among Canadian and Israeli Jewish women who went through divorce at the intersection of secular and religious legalities. In both polities, State responses are to varying degrees rendered less effective by social, religious and economic realities which lie beyond State law but have all sorts of crucial impacts on it. In the context of Jewish divorce, the Canadian civil State remedies are influenced by a web of alternative community responses and recourses available to women. Moreover, Israel’s family law regime, while attractive to some Jewish women of the Diaspora, is also hopelessly ensnared in informal practices of rabbinical court judges, police, and rabbinical advocates, most of the time rendering Israeli policy responses unproductive. It seems clear that socio-legal research can no longer ignore the non-State legal ecosystem in which State law is grounded. This article thus seeks to further a new legal pluralist approach to research and legal practice, one which takes into account the relevance of everyday normativity and its potential usefulness to alleviate the plight of the agunah.