Nearly every week we read a story in the media about a tragic case of get (Jewish divorce) refusal. Sometimes, the stories are about agunot (women who are denied a get by their husbands) who are finally freed after years of agony, whereas other stories highlight the seemingly endless struggle of these women for their freedom. The stories are heart-wrenching and often challenge our faith that Jewish law is meant to provide darkhei noam, paths of pleasantness – not a weapon in the hands of an abuser.
We have a solution to the agunah crisis going forward. We can make this stop. The question is not whether Jewish law and the rabbis can solve this problem, but rather whether we have the collective will as a Jewish community to implement the solution, which is what our latest campaign is all about.
About 20 years ago, Rabbi Mordechai Willig, from Yeshiva University and the Beth Din of America, drafted what we refer to as the halachic prenuptial agreement. This document, which is meant to be signed by a couple before they get married, stipulates that, in the unfortunate event of a divorce: a) the couple agrees to abide by the ruling of the Beth Din of America with regards to the halachic aspects of their divorce, including the get; and b) the husband commits to providing his wife with a halachic support payment, to the tune of $150 per day, for every day that he refuses to give her a get.
In other words, what this agreement does is create a severe financial disincentive – of roughly $55,000 per year – which is fully enforceable in civil courts, in order to dissuade a husband from refusing to give his wife a get. (There is also a “reciprocal” version of the halachic prenup, which creates a similar financial disincentive against the wife to dissuade her from refusing to receive a get, though such cases are quite rare.)
At the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), we have found this halachic prenup to be 100% effective in assuring that a get is given unconditionally and in a timely fashion. While we have seen well over 600 cases of get refusal since our founding in 2002, we have never seen a case where a properly signed halachic prenup did not work. On the contrary, we have seen several cases in which it was used and it worked, and civil courts have enforced it, most notably in a decision by the Superior Court of Connecticut in Light v. Light two years ago. However, in almost all cases in which the halachic prenup is invoked, the case never reaches the civil courts because the husband knows that he would have to fight (and pay for) a losing battle.
Here are the reasons why we have seen the halachic prenup to be so effective:
- As a binding arbitration agreement to the Beth Din of America, it eliminates the forum-shopping between different batei din (rabbinical courts) which is a tremendous source of frustration and game playing when trying to determine where, under what circumstances, and under what conditions, a get is issued. At ORA, we have encountered countless agunah cases wherein women spend years without a get because the two sides cannot agree on a beit din.
- The enforcement mechanism creates a burdensome financial disincentive for a husband to refuse to give a get. Even for extremely wealthy couples, if they are battling each other in a contentious divorce (in which couples fight over nickels and dimes) then the obligation of paying his wife $55,000 per year will weigh heavily on a recalcitrant husband.
- With a halachic prenup, a woman is able to pressure her husband to give her a get early on in the divorce process, before he becomes entrenched in his stance of get-refusal, and before other contentious divorce matters are settled (when he may try to use the get to reverse settlements or decisions that are not entirely to his liking).
- With a halachic prenup, a groom signs his name that he will do the right thing and promptly give a get in the event of a divorce. Few people like to be called liars. Additionally, the psychological commitment that the husband has made at the start of the marriage may impact his attitude with its dissolution.
- The refusal of a prospective groom to sign a halachic prenup can serve as a red flag to a prospective bride of controlling and abusive attitudes which her fiancé possesses. This should alert her to the fact that he may not be someone with whom she should bind herself in matrimony.
We may eventually find that the halachic prenup will not work in every single case but in “only” 99.99% of cases. So far, though, it has always worked, and we anticipate that it will work in the future in nearly all cases. The measles vaccine is also “only” 99.7% effective, but, by everyone taking it, we have effectively eradicated measles from our society. The same goes for the halachic prenup.
Some people may hesitate at the thought of signing the halachic prenup because they feel that it is inappropriate to discuss divorce when getting married. But, the halachic prenup should not cast aspersions on one’s marriage. In fact, by signing the halachic prenup, you are making a commitment to your future spouse that, no matter what, you want to make sure that you never hurt them. It is an expression of your love and mutual respect. I would argue that if you are not prepared to make that commitment and sign your name, then you shouldn’t get married.
While every agunah case is a tragedy, if we can prevent the vast majority of such situations then we will have done a tremendous service to our community, and, most importantly, to our sisters, mothers, and daughters.
The halachic prenup works. It is up to us to ensure that everyone uses it.
Please join us by sharing our latest video on the halachic prenup and taking the Prenup Pledge – www.prenup-pledge.org – to demonstrate your commitment to resolving the agunah crisis once and for all.
Remember: Friends don’t let friends get married without The Prenup!