Annulment of Marriages

Rarely do we see as clearly the tension between traditional Jewish practices and secular values as in the issue of annulment.

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Approaches to Annulment Reflect Movement Values

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements are more closely allied with secular values in that they do not require a get, but accept a civil divorce as fully dissolving a marriage. Annulments do not exist in their interpretations of Jewish law. The Conservative movement sidesteps the letter of the law, focusing instead on the ability of the rabbis to grant annulments for reasons never anticipated in the tradition. The Orthodox movement works within the framework of precedent to allow annulments only for reasons specified in sacred texts.

The Reconstructionist and Reform movements have become more closely aligned with the American value of protecting the rights of the individual when in conflict with communal values. As a religious divorce or annulment has become hard to obtain, the solution has been to discard the need for a religious divorce --thereby solving the problem.

The Conservative movement seeks a middle ground, protecting the rights of the individual by making it easier to obtain an annulment when a religious divorce is not possible, keeping the community concept of religious divorce somewhat intact.

Orthodoxy clearly accepts the community's priority over the individual--even when the absence of an annulment or religious divorce will leave the woman an agunah, a "chained woman" who is unable to remarry.

While it is easy for members of one movement to criticize another movement's philosophy, it is important to remember that none of the above solutions is without issue. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and by and large, the members of each community demonstrate their loyalty to their movement's policy by staying in that community.

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Rabbi Steven Bayar

Steven Bayar received his bachelor's degree and a masters in religious studies from the University of Virginia and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He serves as rabbi of Congregation Bnai Israel in Millburn, N.J., and is the author of Teens & Trust (Torah Aura), Ziv/Giraffe Curriculum (Righteous Persons), and Tikkun Olam (KTAV), & is co-founder of Ikkar Publishing.