Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Does The Agunah Crisis Need A Solution?

R. Mordechai Torczyner writes about how local rabbis struggle to "free" agunos and resolve difficult divorce cases (link). His main point is that rabbis put in a great deal of effort and creativity in solving these cases. Unfortunately, they do not always succeed but the many successes -- the majority of cases -- generally go unrecognized while the failures are trumpeted as if they are the standard procedure.

I think that this can be said about a number of communal problems. Capable community leaders spend an incredible amount of time trying to solve complex problems, generally with success. But it is the failures that get the press coverage, even if they only account for a minimal number of cases.

Click here to read moreI see multiple ways of responding to the recognition of this pattern. One is to focus only on the failures. Any suffering is problematic, even if it is only for a minority of cases. If the current communal structure is unable to avoid that then a new structure needs to be built.

Another is to respond sympathetically to the suffering but to recognize that no system is perfect. There is no way to resolve every case. While every failed case is heartbreaking, and the media attention tends to make that pain even more evident, the sad reality is that the current system works most of the time. The exceptions are just part of the unfair world in which we live.

A third way is -- you guessed it -- the middle way in between those two extremes. We can acknowledge the good of the current system but keep an open mind to changing it, either marginally or by totally revamping it. We can constantly reevaluate how we do things and whether we are truly following best practices. We can also assess whether the current system is really resolving the majority of cases or that is just an optical illusion.

Regardless of which path we choose, it is certainly important to have all the facts. That includes recognizing the quiet small-scale victories that are consistently won.

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