You may remember that back in the ’70s and ’80s, we added a fourth matzah to the three required for the Seder and called it the Matzah of Hope. It was a symbol of the three million Soviet Jews who had no freedom to be Jews. Some twenty or thirty years later, our united voices had changed the situation. I propose that this year we once again add a fourth matzah to our Seder table and read the following. What do you think? Maybe together we can change the situation for the Agunot, women anchored to men who neither want them as wives nor are willing to free them to lead their own lives.
This matzah, which we set aside as a symbol of hope for the thousands of women who are anchored to marriages in name only, reminds us that slavery comes in many forms. Three thousand years ago, Jewish women were forced to see their baby sons die. They themselves were forced to follow the orders of the Egyptian masters to make bricks and perform other onerous tasks.
Today, there are women enslaved to unsustainable marriages. The common term for them is chained women. But the Hebrew, agunah, comes from the root that means to anchor. These women, who have asked for a divorce but are dependent upon their husbands for the get that completes the divorce procedure, are anchored in place by men who refuse to comply. Tethered under water, it is as if they are mired in the muck on the bottom. Although the water that swirls about them represents opportunity, freedom, the ability to navigate to new and different Jewish places, they can barely breathe. How tantalizing to be surrounded by freedom yet to be prohibited from leading the free, fulfilling Jewish lives they crave.
These women can dream of a new life, of new experiences that await them in a different part of this lake or sea they are trapped in. But they cant, by themselves, hoist the anchor to change their situations. They need our support: our prayers, our petitions, our demonstrations. They need for us to convince our rabbis to take action, for where there is a rabbinic will, there will be found a rabbinic way to free agunot.
As we set aside this matzah in their honor, let us pledge to do more in the coming year to free all agunot from the bondage that weighs particularly heavily as we celebrate freedom this Seder night.
This is the first in the series Four Womens Collected Essays on the Meaning of Passover. Click here for introduction to the series.
This essay was also published on B.J. Yudelson website