Fighting for the right to pray

Posted By on April 18, 2014

RIVKA HAUT, 1942-2014

Rivka Haut was a prominent champion of Orthodox Jewish women fighting for divorce in rabbinical courts and seeking to pray together as a group.

In 1980, when she was living in Brooklyn, Haut organized one of the first public protests in the United States concerning Orthodox divorce, outside a building owned by a man who had refused to give his wife a document known as a get, which is needed for traditional Jewish divorces. Under Orthodox law, only the husband has the power to grant a divorce.

Though Haut, a teacher and author on Jewish topics, did not question that tradition, she fought to make it easier for Orthodox women to obtain a get through rabbinical courts, where they are known as agunot (pronounced aw-goo-NOTE), Hebrew for chained women.

She took a personal interest in these women and she never even considered turning anybody away, said Blu Greenberg, the founder of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. Haut would take calls day and night for decades, helping hundreds of women navigate the often dizzying religious procedures to receive a divorce.


In many ways she was my conscience and in many ways the conscience of the community, said Rabbi Dov Linzer, the dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, who leads a daily Talmud study group in which Haut participated for several years. She would say to rabbis all over, Youre not doing enough to help these women, and you could be doing more.

Her aim, he said, was to help women who were suffering. It was not, however, to challenge Orthodox Judaism as a political activist, her daughter Sheryl said.

Eventually people started to call her a feminist, but she had a pretty traditional role at home, Sheryl Haut said. For her it wasnt about equality between men and women, but about womens dignity and voice.

In the late 1970s, Haut also helped organize, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, one of the first Orthodox womens prayer groups, with women reading from the Torah scrolls, an activity long reserved for men.

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Fighting for the right to pray

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