Agunot and Converts to Islam: Jews and Muslims in Yemen from 1950 to 1962 by Menashe Anzi

After the mass immigration to Israel from 1948 to 1950, about 2000 Jews remained in Yemen. These Jews lived in small communities and continued to maintain their religious environment as it was. In the years that followed, many of them, however, moved from Yemen to Israel with the assistance of the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The community was of a small size and the fact that it was dispersed throughout the predominantly Muslim areas, created a certain closeness between the two groups. About ten percent of the Jews chose to convert to Islam, many of them in groups. In about twenty cases, the husbands chose to convert to Islam while their wives emigrated to preserve their Judaism. Some of the converts refused to grant their wives a divorce, because, according to Muslim law, conversion is enough to sever the marital relationship. This procedure is called ʿAgunot. Meaning, women bound in marriage to a husband and they no longer lived together, but the husband didn’t formally ‘released’ her from marriage union. The article follows the efforts undertaken to release the ʿAgunot, and shows that Jewish and Muslim scholars were able to find solutions to the ʿAgunot problem and, at times, managed to bridge the gap between the two religions.

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