This week, after Shabbat ended, after the fire of havdalah danced on our fingernails and we lifted our souls with a cinnamon-scented whiff of the world to come, my husband and I spent date night at a party where we signed a Halachic Postnuptial Agreement for Mutual Respect.
We joined more than 90 other couples, including newlyweds, a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary, and couples at every stage in between, at the signing party hosted by the International Young Israel Movement and the Women’s Beit Midrash of Efrat and Gush Etzion. The evening’s atmosphere was both festive and emotional as each couple signed — and thereby made — a statement that in the event their marriage ends, if one of them refuses to give or accept a Jewish divorce known as a “Get,” he or she will face serious financial ramifications. This document protects both men and women but its main purpose is to prevent agunot, chained women trapped in limbo who cannot remarry or move on with their lives without a Jewish divorce.
Happily married, I didn’t sign the Postnup because I think my husband and I will ever get divorced.
Tonight, I signed the Postnup because a lifetime ago on a rainy night, when I was only 19, I stood in cloud of tulle under a chuppah dripping with white orchids in front of 500 people and I married the wrong man.
I signed because when I was 23 and that marriage had imploded, I was gripped with fear that my then-husband would not give me a Get. My apprehension only increased when he disappeared for a few days when we split and no one seemed to know where he was. Even though I had just finished law school and had a promising job lined up, I felt powerless and frightened and couldn’t stop thinking:
What if I am chained to him forever?
Thankfully, my then-husband did consent to give me a Get when he resurfaced, but only after I agreed that he could have almost all of our worldly possessions. He might have argued that it was a negotiation. But as the person devoid of power who wanted to follow halacha, but needed to be free, it felt like blackmail.
I signed tonight because even though I was lucky and received my Get in a timely fashion, I never forgot that feeling of powerlessness, of anger, of something-in-the-system-feels-broken, and I had tears in my eyes when I stood before two witnesses tonight and my husband and I lovingly signed this agreement.
Because I also signed in gratitude for this new life I’ve been blessed with, for the love story husband who came along at a friends’ Shabbat dinner a few years later who shared not only a broken heart, but the same exact previous wedding anniversary. I signed for the life we have built together that wouldn’t have happened without that Get, especially the five — poopoopoo — children we revel in raising and any and all of the goodness that has sprung from our marriage.
I signed because I love and respect the institution of Jewish marriage and cringe for G-d every time I hear of another aguna born of hate, spite and a perversion of halacha, especially knowing that He had the wisdom and mercy to permit divorce and I can’t imagine that the women most needing His protection, the ones married to the most manipulative and vindictive men, are the ones halacha would protect the least.
I signed for the young friend who cried on my couch five months ago, her marriage irreparably cracked, her husband refusing to free her and I held my breath with her family as she had to sit for months wondering not when she would be free but if. I signed because of too many stories of men who won’t let go and the people who enable them, for each woman who doesn’t get to move on as I have and find her true bashert, because of the marriages and children that are prevented by the lack of a Get or the women who simply give up on the system that they feel has failed them and move on anyway.
I signed to do my part in taking away the stigma of halachic pre- and postnups, to proclaim that Get refusal is never okay because if you justify Get refusal sometimes, you help justify it always.
And ultimately, I signed the Halachic Postnup for someday, for the future when my husband and I dream of standing under the chuppot of our children, especially our daughters — after they have followed our example and signed agreements similar to the one we signed tonight — so that I will be able to breathe knowing they are not powerless the way I was.
Then, we can truly focus on the joy of young love and the holiness found in the beauty of new beginnings.