Including Agunot on Purim in Montreal

Annual Publicity Poster
Annual Publicity Poster

Every year costumed women and children arrive from communities across the island, all aglow and abuzz with great anticipation. Purim with the MWTG is truly a happening here in Montreal. The Montreal Women’s Tefillah Group (MWTG) was founded in 1982 under the direction and leadership of Dr. Norma Baumel Joseph and our halakhic advisor, Rabbi Howard S. Joseph of Canada’s oldest congregation (1768), the Spanish and Portuguese.  At the time our mandate was to provide a venue wherein women, citywide, could gather in prayer, complete with service on Rosh Chodesh.  Years later we were able to realize Norma’s goal of conducting our very own reading of Megillat Esther by and for women. I believe we may now claim to be another of the treasured fixtures on the Montreal Jewish scene.

“The Agunah” by Israeli-Canadian Artist, Esti Mayer. Note the blade of a sword extending from the Agunah’s neck to her pelvis represents the silencing of her voice and the rupturing of her reproductive rights.

Montreal is also home to the Coalition of Jewish Women for the Get, a body created to advocate on behalf of the agunot in our midst. The Coalition deals with agunot, rabbis, and government. In 1990, the Coalition succeeded in having Bill 21.1 amended to the Canadian Divorce Act, which removed any barriers to religious remarriage.

The Coalition had held its first Vigil for Agunot on the evening before Ta’anit Esther. After another year with a small turnout, the vigil was moved to day, just before Megillah reading. It was quite a success! As Purim is our most well-attended event of the year, averaging one hundred participants, it is our best opportunity to inform and update our community on this most shameful and deplorable status.

We have led workshops on agunot, held art displays, watched Israel’s Savta Bikorta videos followed by group discussion, and listened to a

"Purim Megillah Reading with the MWTG" by Montreal Artist, Miriam Lanail
“Purim Megillah Reading with the MWTG” by Montreal Artist, Miriam Lanail

very moving address and plea from a local agunah of six years now. Last year seven women scattered and seated throughout the chapel read brief, scripted accounts of local agunot. This action had quite an impact on attendees, as a voice was suddenly heard from one side of the room, followed by another from the opposite side and so on. These added activities have fostered much creativity in our community and I heartily suggest that other groups follow suit.

CHAG PURIM SAMEACH!

Click here to read more about International Agunah Day, which is on Ta’anit Esther (March 13, 2014).

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