Israeli Group Aids Agunot

In 1975, American immigrant Sylvia Mandelbaum founded an organization called Mitzva to help agunot (women whose husbands refuse to give them divorces) by providing mediation and counseling services to help estranged couples reach an agreement.

The Jerusalem-based organization provides a family therapist who, through meeting with a couple, decides if mediation, marriage counseling or a lawyer is needed. There are currently eight professional mediators working for Mitzva, all of them social workers.

An hour-long session costs about 30 shekels. It often takes five to ten sessions before a solution is found. About 20 couples receive help each month, and of these only one-third proceed with litigation.

Recently the organization created a research department that is preparing a booklet on Jewish laws related to marriage and divorce. Betty Yoffey, an attorney and past chairperson of Mitzva, said she hopes to influence legislators and rabbis so that the divorce system may be brought up to date.