Jewish Women After the Haskalah

The Jewish home takes center stage.

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The weakening of the Jewish com­munity worked both in favor of women and against them. Women, rarely financially independent, were often forced by circumstances to remain in an unhappy marriage. For those who could leave, it became easi­er than ever to go outside the commu­nity for a divorce with or without a husband's consent. But women who still wanted to adhere to tradition and receive a legal Jewish divorce (get) sometimes faced even more obstacles than before. If the husband no longer concerned himself with Jewish tradi­tion, the Jewish court had no real power to coerce him into granting the divorce. If he chose, he could continu­ally refuse to free his wife, keeping her in the state of an agunah, an abandoned wife who could never remarry. Puah Rakowski managed to force her hus­band to divorce her by threatening to convert, but such tactics were certainly not common. If a husband stubbornly refused to grant his wife a divorce, the Jewish community, deprived of its authority in this new age of emancipa­tion, was helpless.

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Cheryl Tallan has an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies from York University, Toronto. She is the author of Medieval Jewish Women in History, Literature, Law and Art: A Bibliography.