Sex strike for agunah stirs controversy, elicits disapproval from prominent rabbi Hershel Schachter

While some have voiced support, various Orthodox figures have called the sex strike a “terribly destructive idea” and “morally wrong”

Adina Sash with protesters in Kiryas Joel on behalf of Malky Berkowitz. Courtesy of Adina Sash

Mar 13, 2024 3:00 PM


A sex strike proposed by activist Adina Sash, known on Instagram as FlatbushGirl, was meant to urge men to advocate on behalf of agunah Malky Berkowitz. But various figures within the Orthodox world are skeptical — and, in some cases, disapprove outright.

In a recently issued open letter, Rabbi Herschel Schachter, a highly-esteemed Modern Orthodox rabbinic figure, became the latest prominent voice to criticize the proposed sex strike, which is intended to exert pressure on Haredi men to support Berkowitz’a plight. Berkowitz, a Satmar woman from Kiryas Joel, has been denied a get, or Jewish writ of divorce, by her husband Volvy Berkowitz for over two years. 

“It has come to my attention that some are suggesting that women should either refuse to go to the mikvah, or refuse to be intimate with their husbands,” Schachter wrote. “It should go without saying that this is a terribly destructive idea.”

Signs in Woodbourne, N.Y., protesting against coercing a get. Credit: Shtetl

In recent weeks, Sash mounted a spirited campaign to get Malky the get. According to Jewish law, a woman who does not receive a get from her husband cannot remarry, and is known as an agunah, or “chained” woman. 

In February, Sash organized a rally in Kiryas Joel, hired LED display trucks to drive around carrying her message, led a phone campaign, and even had a airplane fly over the town with a banner calling to “Free Malky.” On Wednesday, Sash announced her newest strategy: a “mikvah strike.”

Orthodox Jewish women who have finished menstruating immerse themselves in a mikvah, a ritual bath, before having sex with their husbands again.

Some prominent figures within the Orthodox world quickly criticized the strike. Daphne Lazar Price, the executive director of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, told JTA she considered the idea of the strike “coercive” and therefore “morally wrong.”

“Using intimacy as a point of leverage for social protest is unwise and downright dangerous,” wrote Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, creator of the popular Orthodox podcast 18Forty, on X, formerly Twitter. “The way to address broken relationships is not by creating more broken relationships.”

In his letter, Schachter cited the Talmud and Torah sages to argue against the strike. “Intimacy between a husband and wife is an expected part of a healthy marriage,” he wrote. “It should go without saying that this is a terribly destructive idea.”

Still, Schachter acknowledged that some forms of protest are appropriate when seeking to obtain a get, such as demonstrating in front of the husband’s house and “applying significant social pressure.” 

And even sex strikes have a time and place, he said.

“In rare circumstances, where a recalcitrant husband has belonged to a small tight knit community, it has sometimes proven to be a successful strategy for the women in that particular community to refuse to go to the mikvah” until the husband gives a get, he wrote. But for women to use this strategy to advocate for women who belong to different parts of the Orthodox Jewish world, as Sash suggests, “is a recipe for disaster,” Schachter wrote. 

Sash addressed Schacter’s letter and other critics in a series of Instagram stories posted on Monday. “You claim you care about agunahs, and the only thing you can’t stand is the way I advocate for them,” she said.

Orthodox feminist Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, a cofounder of the women’s advocacy group Chochmat Nashim, also disagreed with Schachter’s letter, saying he should have written a letter criticizing Volvy, not Sash. “Malky sits alone,” Keats Jaskoll wrote on X. “Apparently she doesnt warrant a letter or action.”