||Responsa on the sensitive issue of agunot collected and arranged by R. Abraham ben Yoel Abelsohn, and published by R Simeon Aryeh Schwabacher, av bet din of Odessa. The title page states that the subject matter encompasses the laws of halitzah, apostates, and get shotah, variant conditions that can complicate a woman’s situation in getting a divorce. According to the title page, Takunot Agunot is comprised of forty four cases in Odessa, from the responsa of different rabbis, but this volume only consists of responsa twenty through forty four. The names of the rabbis whose responsa appear in the volume are noted on the title page. There is a preface from R. Schwabacher and an introduction from the author (R. Abelsohn) followed by the responsa. The text is in a single column in square letters.
The condition of the agunah is a particularly sensitive issue in halakhah. An agunah is defined as a married woman who, for whatsoever reason, is separated from her husband and cannot remarry, either because she cannot obtain a divorce from him or because it is unknown whether he is still alive. The term is also applied to a yevamah (a levirate widow; if she cannot obtain halizah from the levir or if it is unknown whether he is still alive (Git. 26b, 33a; Yev. 94a; and Posekim). The problem of the agunah is one of the most complex in halakhic discussions and is treated in great detail in halakhic literature. These responsa are a contribution to this complex field and the attempts to deal with and resolve the associated problems as described here are both important and noteworthy.
R. Simeon Aryeh Schwabacher (1819–1888) was born in Oberndorf, Wuerttemberg, Germany. He served as rabbi and preacher in Prague, Hamburg, Landsberg, and Schwerin. Later he went to Lemberg (1856–60) to act as preacher of the "enlightened" congregation, and in 1860 he was invited by the maskilim of Odessa, with the support of the governor of the town, Count Stroganov, to act as kazyonny ravvin. His sermons in German made him well known; he published several works of homiletics, introduced new practices into the Great Synagogue of the town such as a choir, and concerned himself with the organization of modern relief activities for the poor. He also established the vocational school Trud, a mutual aid society of Jewish shop clerks, a soup kitchen, an orphanage, and an old-age home. His ignorance of Yiddish constituted a barrier between him and the masses and with the rise of a Russian-speaking class of maskilim, his influence with the Jewish intellegentsia also declined. His opposition to Hibbat Zion also caused him to lose popularity within the community, and in 1887 Schwabacher was removed from his rabbinical office. During his 27 years as rabbi he made an important contribution to the shaping of the character of the Odessa community as the first modern community in Russia.