Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Advertisements for lost husbands; agunos helping themselves through the pages of the Hebrew newspaper Hamaggid

The founder and editor of Hamaggid decided to use the pages of his newspaper to print notices from agunot, chained women, whose husbands had gone missing. These notices are heartbreaking, even as we appreciate the humanity of Eliezer Lipmann Silbermann in trying to do something to help these women. Sadly, there were many, many of these notices. Occasionally they seem to have worked and the whereabouts of a missing husband was located.

Here is a sample, from Hamaggid June 17, 1858:

Two women write that in 1849 their husbands left their town of Ponovezh to sell merchandise. Chaya Yenta's husband is named Shmuel ben Nisan. He was born in Troki and grew up in Vilna. He married her, the daughter of Reb Shalom Finfer of Ponovezh, a merchant. Physically, he is short, has a thin, long face, with pockmarks, a small beard, and blonde hair, and light eyes. He has a wart on one side of his head. He is a ben Torah, very learned.

The second one, Yehudis, is married to Aryeh Leib. She is the daughter of Reb Binyamin Slauker, also based near Ponovezh. He grew up in Kurland. Physically, he is very fat, with a ruddy face and black hair.

They say that when they reached their destination they received letters from them stating that they planned to return, but that was the last they ever heard from them. Thus, they have been left as agunos, chained women. Therefore they ask all Jews, wherever they may be, to do them a kindness for they and their children are as two widows of living men. If anyone recognizes these men and knows if they are alive, please speak to them and encourage them to return home, or to send them a divorce. If they are already deceased, perhaps someone knows the date and place of death and can inform the rabbi, editor of Hamaggid.

"This is the request of the afflicted agunos,
1) Chaya Yenta, wife of Shmuel.2) Yehudis, wife of Aryeh Leib."

In the July 15, 1858 issue a reply was printed:

A man called Meshulam Kaufman writes that he may have information about Yehudis' husband, Aryeh Leib of Kurland. He says that here in Kvil (sp) in Poland a man has been living for three years, and he says he was raised in Kurland. He also knows from the man's own words that he has been dwelling in Poland for about nine years. He works as a melamed (teacher) for small children, and gives a shiur in Gemara and Tosafos, and conducts himself properly (i.e, religiously). He is unmarried, and Kaufman does not know why, and physically he matches her description  exactly; except that he is not called Aryeh Leib; rather, here the man is known as Tzemach, and nicknamed "Chayma." Nevertheless, the fact that this man has a different name is no proof, of course. Kaufman says that he spoke to him about it, and implored him that if it is true then he should face up to it, and if not then in order to clear his reputation, he ought to inform the Beit Din in their city and clarify the matter, if he is really named Tzemach and so on. The man responded, what business is it of yours? If I decide to get married here, sure, let them investigate me. But barring that, what business is it of yours if I am really named Tzemach or Aryeh? So, Kaufman wishes this be made known to Yehudis and maybe with the help of the editor inquiries can be made and perhaps the matter, the disgrace of this scorned Jewish (Yehudis) woman can be ameliorated.

I don't know if anything came from it, but it is nice to have seen a glimmer of hope.


  1. I'm glad you are posting this. The Agunah problem was far worse back then than it is now. Before the era of communications, husbands would just "fall off the planet" and leave their wives without ever being held accountable, nowadays there is much more community pressure and accountability. There still exists the problem, but on a much smaller scale. Plus we are forgetting that non religious jews have "solved" the problem by eliminating it altogether.

    If one is really truthful and honest, the agunah issue in the 21st century is really a small fraction of the problem it was 200 years ago.


  3. An interesting difference I see between then and now is that the people writing these letters to the editor didn't do so anonymously.



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